Everything You Need to Know About Sweet Potatoes

There is so much more to sweet potatoes than the bright orange Thanksgiving dish. For starters, this tuber can be pale yellow or purple!

It used to be that sweet potatoes were relegated to being the marshmallow-topped side dish at Thanksgiving. But today this starchy vegetable is used in everything from breakfast hash to sweet potato fries and twice-baked potatoes. You’ve probably eaten plenty over the years, but there are a few things you may not know about this tuber.

What Are the Benefits of Eating Sweet Potatoes?

To start, they’re a low-calorie, high-fiber food that’s packed full of vitamins and minerals. Every cup of baked sweet potato (with the skin on) contains a whopping 769% of the recommended daily value of vitamin A, along with vitamins C and B6, manganese and potassium. And, unlike other starchy foods that cause a spike in blood sugar, sweet potatoes have a low glycemic index, making them a suitable carb for people with diabetes.

The orange-fleshed varieties are also full of beta-carotene. This antioxidant has numerous health benefits, including supporting healthy vision, boosting the immune system, enhancing brain function and protecting skin.

Buying and Storing

When shopping for sweet potatoes, it’s best to pick them up and give them a once-over. They should feel heavy for their size and have a firm texture when you squeeze them lightly. Skip anything with bruises, sprouts or deep gashes.

As far as storage goes, sweet potatoes can last for three to six months if you happen to have a cool, dark storage area at about 50°F. Unfortunately, this is cooler than most homes and warmer than the refrigerator. If you’re storing them at room temp, plan to eat the potatoes within a week or two. Never store sweet potatoes in the fridge, as they’re not very tolerant to cold temperatures.

The Most Popular Types of Sweet Potatoes

Most of us are familiar with the orange-fleshed sweet potato that cooks up juicy and moist, but there are a ton of different types in all shapes and colors. They fall into two major categories:

Firm sweet potatoes

These tubers have thin, golden skin and light-colored flesh. When you cook them, they remain firm and waxy, making them perfect for dishes like sweet potato fries. Popular varieties of these sweet potatoes include Creamsicle and Speckled Purple Potatoes, which are (you guessed it!) purple inside.

Soft sweet potatoes

This is the sweet potato you likely recognize, with its thick, copper skin and bright orange flesh. As they cook, these potatoes retain their moisture and create creamy, fluffy flesh. That makes them ideal for making sweet potato pie or stuffed sweet potatoes. These potatoes may be labeled as “yams” at the grocery store, and you may also find red or purple skinned soft sweet potatoes, like Garnets.

Psst… This is the real difference betweens sweet potato and yams.

How to Cook Sweet Potatoes

You can peel them before cooking or chopping, although we’d recommend keeping the skin on because of its nutritional value.

Baked

If you’re looking for an easy way to cook a sweet potato, pop it into the oven whole. Once the potato is soft when pierced with a fork, you can eat as-is or mash the flesh and use it to make a sweet potato bake.

Roasted

Instead of baking your sweet potato whole, cut it up and roast it instead. You can easily turn a sweet potato into oven-baked sweet potato fries or accentuate its sweet flavor with a honey and cinnamon dressing.

Boiled

The quickest way to cook a sweet potato is to chop it into cubes and boil it in salted water. You can crisp up the cooked potatoes for a breakfast hash, use them to make the classic marshmallow-topped casserole or mash ’em up with a splash of orange juice.

Fried

Add texture to your sweet potatoes and make healthy homemade chips! These chips taste great on their own as a snack, but they also make a perfect accompaniment to your favorite dip recipe.

For more about how to cook sweet potatoes in the oven, on the stovetop or in the microwave, check out our complete sweet potato cooking guide.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.