I've never met a sweet potato I didn’t like. They’re a hearty, versatile, delicious, and nutritious root vegetable that deserves a place in your kitchen. This fall crop that begins in early September reaches its peak around Thanksgiving.
But what distinguishes a good sweet potato from a bad one? And how long do they keep once you buy them? To find out, I reached out to Tim Hughes-Muse, an organic sweet potato farmer from Laughing Child Farm in Pawlet, Vermont.
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What Should I Look For in a Good Sweet Potato?
Tim Hughes-Muse: Look for smooth, full, and firm skin. The size you choose should be determined by what you're going to use it for. If you're going to be roasting them for a family of four, you want evenly shaped, evenly sized sweet potatoes so they all cook at the same rate. If you're chopping and dicing them, then size isn’t an important factor.
Most sweet potatoes available in stores across the United States are of the Beauregard variety, which have orange skin and flesh and tend to be more moist and sweeter compared to yellow or white-flesh sweet potatoes. Covington or Jewel sweet potatoes are also a common variety carried in stores. These tend to be less stringy and are good for purees, mashes, and baking.
Are Sweet Potatoes and Yams the Same Thing?
THM: The “yams” sold in most supermarkets in the United States are actually just larger sweet potatoes. Actual yams are much larger and have rougher, bark-like skin with white flesh.
What's the Best Way to Store Sweet Potatoes?
THM: It’s best to store sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place or container away from strong heat sources. Avoid the refrigerator since they might absorb flavor.
How Long Do Sweet Potatoes Keep?
THM: After sweet potatoes are harvested, they are cured in temperature-controlled barns for a few days to develop their sweetness and color. Sweet potatoes actually get sweeter with age and, if stored properly, can keep up to two weeks after purchasing.
Sweet Potato SoupMost sweet potato soup recipes call for so many other ingredients that the sweet potato flavor is muted. By cutting back to just shallot, thyme, and butter and using water instead of broth, we put the focus back on the main ingredient. Learn how to make this soup now.
How Can I Tell When a Sweet Potato Has Gone Bad?
THM: First off, it’s normal for there to be some interior color variation in sweet potatoes. Just like us, sweet potatoes have genetic variation. It’s fine if a sweet potato’s flesh is slightly marbled from a deep orange to a paler color. But you should avoid sweet potatoes that look dried out or dehydrated. Sometimes sweet potatoes’ interiors can become pithy or get some holes as they age. This won’t necessarily make you sick but might not have as much flavor.
Also stay away from sweet potatoes with discolored flesh. If it’s brown when you cut into it, that is a sign of rot. You can also detect a sweet potato’s freshness by its smell. Sweet potatoes naturally smell earthy, but it shouldn’t smell sweet before you cook it. That’s a sign of rot or that the bacteria is converting to sugar.
What's Your Favorite Way to Eat Sweet Potatoes?
THM: We sneak them into everything. We even put them in our waffles. We also put them in our smoothies. But probably one of my favorite ways to eat them is to shred them and make them into latkes with red onions. Our kids also make the sweet potatoes into pie every weekend and sell them at the farmstand.
Laughing Child Farm sweet potatoes are available in select stores and co-ops in Vermont, New York, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts.
Photo: Westend61, Getty Images