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Yes, they are Sweet, but they AREN’T Yams… They’re not even Potatoes!

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion concerning Sweet Potatoes so if you find yourself somewhat mystified by Sweet Potatoes, you’re not alone! Even many so-called “experts” are bamboozled by Sweet Potatoes, partly because there are dozens, literally, many dozens of varieties of Sweet Potatoes.

I Yam what I Yam…

Pardon the Popeye pun but let’s start by getting the “yam” issue out of the way.

You will often see, especially around the Holiday Season, what appear to be Sweet Potatoes in the Produce section of your local Grocer but they’re often labeled “Yams”, (usually Garnet Yams), and you can even find them canned and displayed prominently during the Holiday season with the label “Candied Yams” when neither the tubers in the Produce bin nor the canned “Candied Yams” are actually yams!

True Yams are native to Africa and are, compared to Sweet Potatoes, gigantic, often weighing 10 or more pounds each! Since producers and growers often refer to fresh and canned Garnet Sweet Potatoes, as Yams, the confusion lives on…

But wait, there’s more! More confusion!

Look at the label of this product, which sells in huge numbers in the week or two before Thanksgiving…

It says “Sweet Potatoes” in large letters across the top but then adds “Cut Yams in Syrup” below.

The producer is trying to split the difference by calling them both Sweet Potatoes and Yams.

Let’s get this last pesky detail out of the way. While these tubers are most definitely sweet, they’re not true potatoes! The familiar Russet, Red and Yukon Gold potatoes we’re all familiar with, are “true” potatoes and are part of the Nightshade family, which includes Tomatoes, Eggplant and Bell Peppers, while Sweet Potatoes are botanically, part of the Morning Glory family.

There are are usually two “classic” Sweet Potatoes at your local Grocery Store

The most common varieties of Sweet Potatoes are the classic Red Garnet and Jewel, with dark red skin and deep orange flesh, with the classic, unique flavor. In other parts of the country, Centennial, Covington and Beauregard are the most common Sweet Potatoes.

The other classic Sweet Potato is the Hannah, Jersey and the O’ Henry, which has tan-colored skin and a lighter, more cream-orange flesh and a milder flavor. A third variety that is also common are Japanese Sweet Potatoes, which have a very dark purplish skin but the interior is white, not nearly as sweet and have a unique, nutty flavor many people love.

How do Regular White Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes Compare Nutritionally?

You may be surprised to learn that nutritionally, true potatoes, such as Russet or Yukon Gold and Sweet Potatoes are virtually identical nutritionally with a couple of exceptions:

  1. Sweet Potatoes, being sweeter and higher in sugars have a LOWER Glycemic Index!

  2. Beta-Carotene. Sweet Potatoes are LOADED with Beta-Carotene, which is a true Super-Nutrient. As a rule, the darker Orange the interior flesh the higher the Beta-Carotene.

Cooking Sweet Potatoes

Because of their strong and unique flavor, people often cook sweet potatoes more often around the Holidays, Thanksgiving especially and many of us tend to bake them in the same manner, adding brown Sugar, etc following the classic Holiday recipe when in reality, you can cook Sweet Potatoes in pretty much the same as you would regular potatoes.

Because Sweet Potatoes are very sweet and have a pronounced flavor, you can be bold in balancing their sweetness with Spicy and Savory: Namely, Chiles and Bacon!

Two of the best ingredients that pair perfectly with Sweet Potatoes are Chiles, either fresh, like sliced Jalapeño Chiles or Chile Powder like Ancho Chile or Chipotlé to add a smoky quality. The second ingredient is a savory and salty component with Bacon, (or Bacon Fat), being the favorite.

A Simple Side Dish: Pan-Fried Sweet Potatoes

A simple recipe is to peel and dice Sweet Potatoes 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch in size and toss lightly with Olive Oil and Ancho or Chipotlé, (or a blend) powder and bake on a Sheet pan @ 375-400º for about 10-15 minutes to par-bake them. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Heat up a Sauté pan with Bacon Fat, or your can cook up some bacon, cut up as lardons until crisp. Set the bacon aside and reserve the fat. Add the par-cooked Sweet Potatoes, bacon and sliced Jalapeños and fry until crisp.

Leftover Turkey? Sweet Potato Hash is delicious and Easy!

Sweet Potatoes cook faster than regular potatoes so this complete dish can be completed in 30 minutes or so!

  • 2 cups leftover cooked Turkey, cut into coarse bite-size chunks

  • 2 cups Sweet Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 to 3/4 inch chunks

  • 1/2 cup diced Yellow Onion

  • Fresh Sage, chopped or Dry Sage, rubbed

  • 1/4-1/2 cup Chicken or Vegetable Stock

Heat a large Sauté pan to Medium-High and add 1/4 cup good-quality Olive Oil. Add Sweet Potatoes and sauté until all sides are browned, about 10 minutes. Add Onions and continue to Sauté until onions are just beginning to brown. Turn heat down to Medium-low and add stock and cover for 5 minutes.

Remove cover and add Turkey and Sage. Mix all together and, using a spatula, press the mix down into the pan and bring heat to Medium and allow to brown to form that delicious Hash crust, about five minutes. Flip the mixture and add stock if too dry. Press into pan to continue creating that delicious Hash crust!

Serve as an all-in-one main dish with a side of steamed veggies!


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