Sweet potatoes (not yams) are a root vegetable in the morning glory family. They are native to Central America and South America, but grown all over the world and are very popular in North America.
There are many varieties of sweet potatoes with the skin ranging from pale yellow, to brown and often a dark tan and the flesh from creamy white to orange. Some are even purple (not to be confused with the ube which is a purple yam!
The root and leaves are both edible, but the root is what most people associate with a sweet potato.
Sweet potatoes are put into two categories:
Firm sweet potatoes- golden skin and paler flesh
Soft sweet potatoes- copper/dark brown skin and orange flesh
Commonly, sweet potatoes also come cubed and canned. Like the kind you get around Thanksgiving for sweet potato casserole. They labeled yams, but they are actually sweet potatoes. More on this below…
Are sweet potatoes and yams the same thing?
They are both tubers and root vegetables, but they are different species altogether. Sweet potatoes are not a type of yam and yams are not a type of sweet potato.
Yams are native to Asia and Africa and are cylindrical shape with dark blackish bark-like skin and white, purple, or reddish flesh. Most North American grocery stores don’t even carry yams- they carry sweet potatoes. The sweet potato they call a yam is a beauregard.
Sweet Potatoes are sold as yams all the time. See above for more info.
How to Cook Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are very verstile and can be cooked a variety of ways, but it is important to know if you are working with soft or firm versions first.
- Baked– either firm or soft (whole or chopped)
- Fried– best for firm (soft have trouble getting crispy and staying put together)
- Sauteed– either firm or soft
- Steamed– best for firm
- Microwaved– either first or soft
- Boiled– best for firm
- Mashed – this works best with soft so you can get a fluffy potato
Like other root veggies, they come from the dirt, so scrub them well before you start working.
The skins are edible, but often leathery, tough and unappetizing. They can be eaten raw, but aren’t normally.
How to Bake a Sweet Potato
It is relatively simply and just like baking a regular potato. No olive oil or salt needed.
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
- Place scrubbed potatoes on a baking sheet and prick several times with a fork.
- Bake until tender, 45 to 50 minutes.
- Let cool for 5 minutes, then split the tops open
What Do Sweet Potatoes Taste Like?
Most are sweet, as the name suggests. When baked, they might be a little stringy, but not to the point of being unappealing. At high heats they caramelize and might even ooze what looks like syrup or sap.
Overall, they aren’t as starchy as their cousins, the common potato, which actually makes them better for mashed potatoes, but harder to make into french fries. Sweet potato fries are actually best deep fried, as the oven baked versions are tough to get a crunchy outside and soft inside.
The skins typically don’t get as crispy as other types of potatoes, so they aren’t as good at holding things like a potato skin, although twice baked can be done.
How to Store Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are best stored at room temperature or in a cool dark place, like a pantry. They can last up to 3 weeks before being used (as long as they were semi fresh before you bought them).
Heat will make them ripen (and rot) faster, so if you are in a warm climate or don’t have AC, use them within a week. The first sign is shriveled skin.