All About Sweet Potatoes & A Delicious Baked Recipe

Baking Sweet Potatoes

In between making large batches of soap today, I helped dig sweet potatoes in the plot we planted to benefit our local food bank. We’ve given over 3,600 pounds of produce so far this year, and have only the sweet potatoes and fall broccoli left to harvest. I think we got about 200 pounds of sweets, but we’re not done yet. Sweet potatoes are fun and easy to grow and they’re good for you in so many ways.

Growing Sweet Potatoes

Depending on the time of the year, sweet potatoes can be very easy to grow. They don’t do as well during the dead of winter, but in the early spring, get them at your local food co-op, natural food store, or farmer’s markets. Look for firm tubers that have a good set of eyes on one end.

Sweets are different from “Irish” potatoes in that they grow from one end and don’t rely on sets of eyes that can be cut into many pieces. One end will produce the roots and one will produce the plant. It may be difficult to tell at first, but you’ll get the hang of it.

When you get your sweets home, take three toothpicks and place them in the potato about half way up. Space the toothpicks out evenly. Then place the root end in water most of the way up to the toothpicks. A good way to do this is in a rocks glass. They are short and bigger around than most drinking glasses. When you have your potato set up, place it in a window. Within a few weeks you’ll see purple or green sprouts starting on the top and roots starting on the bottom. If you don’t see anything within a month, discard the potato and start with a new one. I get about 6-7 duds a year doing it this way out of about 100.

When the shoots get about 6 inches tall, break them off and place them in some water. They’ll root in a few days to a week. When the roots are good sized, plant them. The vines will grow everywhere, so keep an eye on them. When the vines freeze in the fall, it’s time to harvest them.

Fun Sweet Potato Facts

  • Sweet potatoes are not yams and yams are not sweet potatoes. (Read more about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.)
  • They are a member of the morning glory family.
  • They come in several colors including yellow, orange, garnet, and white.
  • They can get quite large. I’ve seen them weight 3-4 pounds each!
  • The shoots, stem, and leaves can be eaten like spinach – steamed or eaten raw.
  • They are North Carolina’s state vegetable. The main cash crop in the Piedmont region of North Carolina is the sweet potato.
  • They originated in Central America and started being cultivated about 5,000 years ago.
  • Many cities in the US have Sweet Potato festivals.
  • The average acre produces over 13 tons of sweets.
  • They are nutrient dense. Sweet potatoes contain a number of vitamins and minerals in addition to antioxidants.
  • They are a great source of beta carotene.
  • They can be eaten in a number of ways including baked, fried, dehydrated, raw, and steamed. The can be made into many dishes including the ever popular sweet potato casserole (I like mine with nuts and marshmallows!), sweet potato fries, and even wine.
  • They are very low in calories and pound for pound are better for you than “Irish” potatoes.
  • They can be used for animal feed.
  • They can be used with citrus juice to dye cloth.
  • About 95% of commercially produced sweet potatoes are the cultivar “Beauregard.”

Recipe for Baking Sweet Potatoes

It seems like no matter where I have lived, here in North Carolina or Minnesota, sweet potatoes have been very popular. Once relegated to holiday feasts, they are consumed all year long now. I love sweet potato chips and always get sweet potato fries if I have a choice at restaurants. My favorite dish is baked sweet potatoes. They are simple and easy, though they can take a while to cook.

Ingredients

Directions

Set your oven to 350°. Trim the ends off the sweet potatoes and poke several times with a knife. This allows steam to escape during cooking. Cut each one in half and slice through several times, not going all the way to the skin. Smear some butter on top. The amount is up to you. Sprinkle each half with brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg. Oil your baking dish and place your halves inside, cut side up. Bake for 30 minutes. Baking time will vary with different ovens and each individual sweet potato. Serve hot. You can cover them during baking, but I usually don’t. Smaller potatoes may not need to be poked, but the cut side may seal itself during baking, so I don’t take a chance.

How about you?

What’s your favorite way to enjoy sweet potatoes? Share with us in the comments section!

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Comments

  1. Great article. When I’m in a hurry, I wash them, dry them then wrap in plastic wrap or (sandwich ziplock bag) and micro wave for 5-6 min. When they feel med soft to the touch they are done. Serve with honey/ cinnamon and ghee butter!!!!
    They are great camping food too. Take them already cooked. When ready to eat, remove the skins, slice length wise and warm up in a skillet. Add seasoning as desired. Again, use ghee butter. It does not need to be refrierated! You can even make your own ghee. (Google it)

  2. When you say: “When the shoots get about 6 inches tall, break them off and place them in some water. “, I am a little confused. What are the shoots?

    • Robert, the shoots are the actual vine growing from the sweet potato, just break it off from the potato.

  3. We love sweet potatoes! We especially like sweet potato fries… I scrub the sweet potatoes then cut them into strips. I toss them in olive oil and bake them on 350 degrees until they’re tender… yum!

  4. I’m in England and have only recently discovered sweet potatoes. The only time I tried to bake one, I put it in the oven with a white potato but it was overcooked,yet you seem to be saying they take a while to bake. Is this the variety perhaps? Do different sweet pots take different times in the same way as other potatoes?
    I find your tips etc very interesting and helpful. Thank you

  5. Did you grow them when you were in Minnesota? I’m in zone 3 and didn’t think they could be grown here. Thanks.

  6. When I bake potatoes (sweet or otherwise) I just scrub them clean and bake at 400 degrees. I do not poke holes until it’s time to check for doneness when I smell them smelling done. I don’t want steam to escape. It helps them cook and keeps them moist. I never cover them as that make them lose moisture from the inside too. I no longer add any sugar either. No one needs extra sugar in their diet and sweet potatoes are one of the foods that come with their own. Why ruin a healthy thing by adding, bad for you, sugar? I also cook them for myself by splitting a clean tuber down the middle and brazing it on the stove top, cut side down, in a little olive oil and butter in a covered frying pan on very low heat. Sometimes I shred them and braise them that way. The sugars caramelize and they are delicious. I salt with a little Pink Himalayan salt after cooking. Marshmallows are worse for you than sugar and I don’t eat them anymore even though I used to love them. If I do want some dessert sweet potatoes I put a little real maple syrup or honey on them after cooking. Foil is bad for you also. Any thing with aluminum is bad for you and your food.

    • regarding cooking with aluminum foil. I have friend who grew up in Belgium. She fell in love with American and moved here 20 years ago. one of the things that shocked her, is how prevalent use of aluminum for cooking is over here. In Belgium, aluminum pans, cookware, etc. is outlawed, illegal to be sold as cookware. There is wide evidence that aluminum is unstable when heated. and leaches into food. Enough concern about it’s health risks that Belgium and other European countries prohibit sales of it for cookware, including those throw away aluminum baking pans.

      • Yes there are also food additives and other stuff banned in other countries because of the proven bad health/disease causing effects. The thing about aluminum has been known for decades now. That’s how long I’ve known yet a lot of people still don’t seem to know.

        • Plus I’ve rarely ever cooked with foil and neither did my mom. My food turns out much better without it. The right level of heat on baked foods seals in juices and moisture.

      • It is rather shameful how in other countries things are removed for the people’s own good, yet here in america things have to kill people before they are removed or outlawed. Of course, a lot of it is due to industry and money, as we all know. But what I am talking about is more the way habits are allowed to progress til it is such a part of people’s lives they don’t want to give it up. How long have aluminum foil and cooking pans been around? A long time.
        But really, (tho this post was originally on sweet potatoes) I am talking about cellphone usage IN THE CAR. Many other countries had already outlawed using a cellphone while driving, but here it did not become law until jan. of 2014 – long after the HABIT has become so ingrained in people that most don’t want to give it up or even adjust with some newer and safer technology. I see people all the time driving and talking on their cellphones, and a police car right near by, doing nothing. But that’s how it is here. Where is common sense?
        I think I will go and have a nice sweet potatoe to calm down!

  7. wow, excellent article! i love sweet potatoes and now i love them even more! thanks for all the cool info, didnt know they were in the morning glory family… how interesting.

  8. I NEVER liked Sweet potatoes. I would look at the casserole dish that was passed around at Thanksgiving and almost hurl. All those marshmallows and nuts and dark cinnamon, swirling with some slimy foreign chucks of orange — yuck. Surprising for me, who liked almost every food.

    Then one day, someone made sweet potatoes for me with the JUST the spud. Nothing else. Mashed. I fell in LOVE that instant. Never had I known that those wonderful tubers tasted BETTER than white mashed potatoes. After that day, I bought fresh ones (not that canned yuck) and made my own during Thanksgiving dinner at my mom’s and she liked them too. The offending casserole slowly faded into the history of our family, never to be seen again.

    Now, they are my most favorite food at Thanksgiving — or anytime I get a craving.

  9. I bake mine similar to you. But I leave them whole. I wash them really good and then dry them. I cut off the ends and poke holes. Then I slather butter on the outside of the entire potato and roll it in a cinnamon and nutmeg mix. Then I wrap them in foil and pop them in the oven on 350 for 30 min to an hour depending on how big the potatoes are. When they are done I unwrap them and slice them down the middle but not all the way through, just so they will lay open. I put a little more butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg and serve. I’m pre-diabetic so I don’t add any sugar. No one knows that they don’t have added sugar on them because they are so good!

  10. I actually didn’t even think I liked sweet potatoes until recently. I figured I should like every vegetable, I just have to find out the right preparation for me. Personally, I don’t like to embrace the sweet in the sweet potato (except for sweet potato pie – yum!), and I’m not a fan of them roasted in chunks. I like to either shred it and pan fry in some bacon fat with either chopped bacon, pecans, salt and pepper, or roasted garlic, ginger, chipotle spice, grated lemon rind and salt and pepper. I also love them mashed up / whipped with butter, cream, roasted garlic, cayenne, salt & pepper. Ok, now I’m hungry!

    • I, too, like them on the savoury side, instead of adding more sweet flavour to their own sweetness. I like them roasted and then added butter and a sprinkle of pink himalayan salt. Also a bit of heat from cayenne pepper accents them well.
      I also like butternut or acorn squash not sweetened up, but with sage, salt and pepper, a bit of real butter or olive oil, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese. Great combination!
      In my mind, those who are locked into only sweetening these vegetables are missing out on some really great alternative flavour combinations.

  11. This recipe was handed down from my family. Every year I make these sweet potatoes

    Sweet Potatoes
    1 can unsweetened crushed pineapple large drained
    a couple teaspoons of cinnamon
    a sprinkle of salt
    2 tablespoons butter

    Cook the sweet potatoes drain the water
    Put the sweet potatoes in a large bowl make sure the skins have been removed
    put in the Pineapple and orange juice. Stir until you have the consistency that you like then put in the cinnamon butter and salt

    This is so good. it goes great with turkey and cranberry sauce