As a tropical plant, sweet potatoes are sensitive to cooler weather and need dependable warm climates. The Pacific Northwest is cooler and more suited to regular potatoes. Not only do they need a hot climate, but the market for sweet potatoes is also hot right now. Between 2000 and 2016, sweet potato consumption in the United States increased by 42 percent. On average, we consume just more than seven pounds of sweet potatoes per person per year.
People often ask about the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. While both are a tuberous root vegetable, yams are native to Africa and related to lilies. They are usually found in international and specialty markets. Yams are more cylindrical in shape than sweet potatoes, with dark, bark-like skin. The flesh can be in colors of white, purple or reddish.Sweet potatoes come from the morning glory family. While the skin can also be white, yellow, red, purple and brown, they are more elongated in shape and have tapered ends.
Two types of sweet potatoes are usually found in the local market. Firm sweet potatoes have a golden skin and a more pale flesh. They remain firm and a little waxy after cooking. Soft sweet potatoes will have copper colored skin and orange flesh. This variety is more creamy and fluffy after cooking. The firm type of sweet potato was the first to be produced in the United States. When the soft variety came along, it needed an identity of its own, so it became the “yam.” The classic, baked sweet potato or the candied yams on the holiday table are sweet potatoes. In general, the true yam, sweet potatoes and the new “yam” are all used interchangeably in most recipes.
Sweet potatoes are rich in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C and potassium, yet very low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. They can be enjoyed baked, roasted or steamed. For something different, try lightly brushing half-inch-thick slices with oil and grilling them. These are delicious as a side dish, on sandwiches or atop a green salad.
Sweet potatoes can be stored for three to five weeks in the pantry or in the refrigerator for two to three months. To freeze, choose medium to large sweet potatoes that have been cured for at least one week. Sort according to size, then wash. Cook in water, steam, a pressure cooker or in the oven until almost tender. Put in the refrigerator until cool. Peel and cut into halves, slice or mash. If desired, to prevent darkening, dip whole sweet potato slices for five seconds in a solution of half a cup of lemon juice to one quart of water. Pack into freezer-safe containers or bags, leaving half an inch of headspace. Seal and freeze.
For additional squash recipes and serving suggestions, check out Chef Scotty’s Market Fresh Recipes at extension.wsu.edu/clark/?p=8163. The FINI FreshMatch program provides help to SNAP consumers to purchase more fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. Find out more at clark.wa.gov/public-health/snap-farmers-markets.
Laurie Burgess is a Clark County WSU Extension Master Food Preserver. For additional recipes, food preservation and food safety information visit http://extension.wsu.edu/clark/?p=1134. Have questions? Call MFP Helpline: 360-397-6060 ext. 5366 or join Facebook Discussion Group “WSU Home Food Preservers – Clark County.”