Time to enjoy tasty, healthful sweet potatoes

Elizabeth S. Reames  |  10/17/2008 7:29:12 PM

News You Can Use Distributed 10/17/08

Fall is a perfect time to enjoy sweet potatoes. The Louisiana yam is an exceptional type of sweet potato that is sweet and flavorful with a soft, moist flesh.

“Not only are Louisiana yams delicious, they also are a perfect choice for the health-conscious food consumer,” said LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames. “They add valuable nutrients and color to any meal.”

Sweet potatoes have been rated the healthiest vegetable by the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Nutrition Action Health Letter. The deep orange color of the sweet potatoes indicates it is rich in carotene, which becomes vitamin A inside the body. Vitamin A is needed for normal growth, development, reproduction, a healthy immune system and vision. One medium baked sweet potato provides about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.

Sweet potatoes also are a good source of dietary fiber, potassium and vitamin C when baked in the skin. They are low in sodium, fat and saturated fat. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines recommend choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables each day, including dark green, orange and starchy vegetables. People who eat more fruits and vegetables are likely to have reduced risk of stroke, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer.

“When buying yams, choose well-shaped, firm potatoes with smooth, bright, uniformly colored skins,” Reames said, adding, “Avoid sweet potatoes with holes or cuts that penetrate the skin and cause decay.”

Freshly dug sweet potatoes are good boiled, mashed, candied and fried, but they do not taste as good if baked. For successful baking, they need to be cured to bring out their rich, sweet flavor. Cure them by storing them for two weeks in a warm room.

Curing also increases their shelf life. Store cured sweet potatoes in a cool, dry place where the temperature is about 55 or 60 degrees. Do not store them in the refrigerator, however. Chilling gives them a hard core and an undesirable taste when cooked.

Well-matured, carefully handled and properly cured potatoes will keep for several months if the temperature and storage conditions are ideal. Meeting all these conditions usually is not possible, however, and the potatoes spoil easily. You might wish to cook and freeze them to maintain their high quality.

To bake sweet potatoes, first scrub and dry them well. Rub them lightly with oil. Don’t wrap them in foil. Put them directly onto a baking sheet and into a preheated 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 375, and bake them until they are soft.

Save energy by baking several sweet potatoes at one time and wrapping unused ones individually in foil. Store them in freezer bags or freezer paper and put them in the freezer.

Sweet potatoes may be cooked, but not baked, in the microwave oven. When cooked in the microwave, they won’t have the sweet, syrupy flavor of oven-baked potatoes.

To microwave sweet potatoes, first wash, dry and puncture them a few times with a fork. Place them on a paper towel on a microwave-safe dish. Cook on high for 4-5 minutes for the first potato, plus 2-3 minutes for each additional potato. Turn over potatoes halfway through cooking.

To boil sweet potatoes, cook them with skins on until they are tender and drain them immediately. Peel and eat or use in your favorite recipe. Most sweet potato dishes freeze well.

Save time and energy by making one sweet potato dish to serve and one to store in the freezer.

Pack freezer containers tightly, leaving one-half inch headspace. Cover the surface snugly with a layer of freezer paper or plastic wrap. Seal the containers and freeze at zero degrees.

To prevent cut potatoes from darkening, dip them in a solution of ascorbic acid dissolved in a little water or in lemon or orange juice. Use that juice in mashed potatoes, too.

To add more sweet potatoes to your diet, Reames offers these suggestions:

– Pack a baked sweet potato for lunch, topped with vanilla yogurt or cinnamon-flavored applesauce.

– Add peeled chunks to your favorite stew.

– Switch from potato chips to sweet potato chips.

– Peel and cut sweet potatoes into strips to eat with your favorite dip.

– Blend sweet potatoes into a breakfast smoothie.

– Use sweet potatoes as substitutes in recipes calling for white potatoes or apples.

For related nutrition topics, click on the Food and Health link on the LSU AgCenter home page at www.lsuagcenter.com. For local information and educational programs, contact an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office.

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On the Internet: LSU AgCenter: www.lsuagcenter.com
Contact: Beth Reames at (225) 578-3929 or breames@agcenter.lsu.edu
Editor: Mark Claesgens at (225) 578-2939 or mclaesgens@agcenter.lsu.edu

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