Sweet Potatoes: The Sweetest Potato

Slip some nutritious and delicious sweet potatoes into this year’s vegetable patch.

| April/May 2007

Sweet potatoes are productive and easy to grow, have few pests, tolerate drought, and a good harvest can last all winter — plus, they’re fun! The vines’ growth rate is fast and furious, and the reason for such luxuriance becomes clear in autumn when the roots are dug. All that photosynthesizing foliage fattens a fine crop of roots.

Short season varieties have extended the sweet potato’s growing range significantly northward, even into Canada. “Word is getting out...garden centers are now stocking plants regularly, while market growers and community supported agriculture (CSA) participants tell me sweets have become established as customer favorites,” says Greg Wingate, owner of Mapple Farm in Weldon, New Brunswick, Canada, a certified organic supplier of sweet potato plants. “This was unheard of two decades ago!”

Sweet potatoes have a lot to offer nutritionally: They’re loaded with vitamin A and beta carotene, plus healthy amounts of vitamins C, B6 and E, as well as potassium. They are also a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates. Like most vegetables, they contain no fat or cholesterol, and a medium-size sweet potato has only about 100 calories.

In the kitchen, sweet potatoes assume varied roles as appetizers, soups, side dishes and desserts with equal panache. Bake them in their skin, or try them sliced, seasoned with olive oil and herbs, then grilled for just a few minutes per side. You can even eat sweet potato leaves like spinach. Ken Pecota, a sweet potato researcher at North Carolina State University, says people usually cook the greens, using 6 to 10 inches of the tips of vines, when they are relatively tender.

Selecting the Right Variety

Sweet potato varieties differ in skin color (yellow, orange, red, purple or cream); flesh color (white, yellow, reddish or orange); texture (soft and moist, or dry and firm); shape (blocky to tapered); and flavor (mild to very sweet). The moist, orange-fleshed types are most popular in the United States, although other types are being grown in increasing quantities to satisfy ethnic food markets.

“The Asian markets prefer a purple-skinned, cream-fleshed, smooth-textured, somewhat dry type that is very sweet when baked,” Pecota says. Hispanic markets tend to favor dry, white-fleshed types that are not sweet.

6/26/2007 5:01:01 PM

Sweet potatoes have great looking little leaves, green with red tinge. I remember Mom cutting off a piece and ?? with toothpicks, she set 1/2 in water?? and they grew for a while. How do I plant, root first, my sweet potatoes that started to 'sprout' in pantry? i want to have a plat for my east window in office. Thxs, Stewart

5/18/2007 11:21:10 AM

My grandfather always warned to never under any circumstances let your sweet potato vines be killed by frost as he claimed it ruins the flavor. My family always watches the weather and digs right before the frost. If you can't dig, eliminate the vines and leave the potatoes in the ground until you have time. Just some lore from the Ozarks.

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