Sweet potatoes are not very sweet or moist when first dug. It takes six to eight weeks of proper curing and storage before they have the sweet, moist taste and texture desired when baked, says LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske.
Although freshly harvested roots won’t directly bake into a great product, they can be candied or used in sweetened pies or casseroles.
After the roots are dug, they should be cured to heal the cuts and trigger development of the sugar-creating enzymes, the LSU AgCenter horticulturist explains. Cure by storing in a warm, humid room for five to 10 days. A temperature of 80 degrees to 85 degrees and a relative humidity of 80 percent to 90 percent are ideal. These exact conditions will be hard to establish around the home, so select a room or building that comes close to these conditions.
After curing, store roots at 55 degrees to 60 degrees for six to eight weeks. This storage further develops the sugars and maltose sugar-creating enzyme. This enzyme will really kick in while baking at 350 degrees to 375 degrees to develop the sweet, syrupy sugars that Louisiana yams are famous for. Stored cured roots may last several months or more. The length of time sweet potatoes can be held in storage without sacrificing quality will depend on the environment they are stored in. The conditions above are “ideal,” but sweet potatoes are held under a variety of environmental conditions, and quality and longevity in storage will vary accordingly.Exposure to low storage temperatures for several days will cause the sweet potatoes to develop a hard center and reduce their eating quality.
When the roots are stored at high temperatures for a long time, they begin to sprout, shrivel and become dry, stringy and pithy.
Sweet potato roots, held over for use as seed potatoes for the next spring, should be dusted with 2 to 4 ounces of 5 percent Imidan per bushel to help control the sweet potato weevil.
Koske also recommends contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office to learn more about horticulture. In addition, visit the Gardening and Get It Growing sections of the LSU AgCenter Web site.
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