Sweet potatoes are a true American original with many talents. Not only is this humble root an excellent source of vitamins A and C, it's also quite versatile.

Equally comfortable with both spicy and sweet flavour partners, sweet potatoes can be candied, baked, sautéed or boiled, for entrees, soups and side dishes-even desserts!

Availability

  • Although sweet potatoes are harvested in fall and early winter and most often associated with Thanksgiving, they are abundant year-round.

Varieties

  • The most common types of sweet potatoes are classified as moist or dry. Moist sweet potatoes are best recognized by an orange-flesh that becomes soft when cooked, while dry ones have a yellow flesh, that stays firm when cooked. The orange-fleshed variety is sweeter and most common in Canada.
  • The moist variety is often wrongly labelled "yam." This is incorrect, since yams are not related to sweet potatoes.
  • Trivia buffs, take note! Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes are also not related.

Purchasing

  • Select firm sweet potatoes without cracks, bruises, soft spots or mould. They should have a uniformly bright skin and be heavy for their size. Be careful! A decayed spot can spoil an entire sweet potato, so you can't simply cut away these spots.
  • Shape is not a quality indicator-they can be round or knobby. But if you are baking them whole, try to select ones with similar sizes to ensure even cooking.

Storage

  • Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place for up to a month. Try to use within a week of purchase if stored at room temperature.
  • Never store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, as it will cause the starch to turn to sugar, producing an off-taste.

Preparation/Cooking

  • Scrub sweet potatoes well before cooking. Keep the skins on when baking or boiling. This will keep in flavour and colour and they will be much easier to peel after cooking.
  • If baking whole sweet potatoes, be sure to pierce them several times with a fork. Be careful, they tend to ooze while baking, so be sure to line your baking pan with foil to make clean up easy.
  • Moist and dry sweet potatoes can be used interchangeably. Sweet potatoes - particularly the dry variety - can also be used interchangeably with regular potatoes.

Tips

  • For a change of pace from regular mashed potatoes, boil and mash sweet potatoes. Top with chopped pecans.
  • Bring a restaurant favourite home with sweet potato chips! Carefully slice peeled potatoes thinly with a sharp knife or food processor. Heat 5 cups vegetable oil in a heavy 4-quart (4 L) pot to 375°F, or until the oil begins to "ripple." Fry small batches (approximately 1 sliced sweet potato) until golden brown. Transfer cooked potato slices to a paper towel-lined plate and season immediately with salt and pepper.

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