Richard Bogren, Reames, Elizabeth S. | 11/7/2009 1:32:11 AM
News Release Distributed 11/06/09
Thanksgiving is a perfect time to enjoy Louisiana yams. The Louisiana yam is an exceptional type of sweet potato – sweet and flavorful, with a soft, moist flesh, says LSU AgCenter nutritionist Dr. Beth Reames .
“Not only are yams delicious, they are a perfect choice for the health-conscious food consumer,” Reames says. “They add valuable nutrients and color to any meal and can be enjoyed all year.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Research Service, sweet potatoes are often called a “nutritional powerhouse” because they are very high in beta-carotene. The deep orange color of the sweet potato 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-size baked sweet potato provides about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B-6, potassium and vitamin C when they’re baked in the skin, Reames says. They are low in sodium, fat and saturated fat. One medium-size baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
When buying yams, choose well-shaped, firm potatoes with smooth, bright, uniformly colored skins. Avoid sweet potatoes with skin penetrated by holes or cuts, which cause decay.
The LSU AgCenter nutritionist cautions that freshly dug potatoes are uncured. They are good boiled, mashed, candied, fried and in many cooked dishes, but uncured potatoes do not bake successfully.
“Yams must be cured for several weeks before they are ready for baking,” Reames says. “Store cured yams in a cool, dry place where the temperature is about 55 or 60 degrees. Do not store them in the refrigerator. Chilling the vegetable will give it a hard core and an undesirable taste when it’s cooked.”
Ideally, fresh sweet potatoes should be cooked within a week or two of being purchased; however, they may be stored for up to one month.
“Well-matured, carefully handled and properly cured potatoes will keep for several months if the temperature and storage conditions are ideal,” Reames says. “This usually is not possible, however, and potatoes spoil easily. You might wish to cook and freeze them to maintain their high quality.”
To bake sweet potatoes, scrub and dry them well. Rub them lightly with oil, but don’t wrap them in foil. Place them on a baking sheet and bake in oven preheated to 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees, and bake until the potatoes are soft.
You can save energy by baking a large pan of sweet potatoes, Reames advises. Wrap them individually in foil after baking, and store them together in freezer bag or freezer paper in the freezer. You can reheat them in the oven.
Sweet potatoes may be cooked – but not baked – in a microwave oven. When cooked in a microwave, they won’t have the sweet, syrupy flavor of oven-baked potatoes.
For microwaving, wash the sweet potatoes, dry them and puncture them a few times with a fork. Place them on a paper towel on a microwave-safe dish. Cook them on high for 4-5 minutes for the first potato, plus 2-3 minutes for each additional potato. Turn the potatoes over halfway through cooking.
You can boil sweet potatoes with skins on until they’re tender and drain them immediately, Reames says. Then you can peel and eat them or use them in your favorite recipe. Most sweet potato dishes freeze well. You can save time and energy by making two sweet potato dishes – one to serve and one to store in the freezer.
To freeze yams, cut or mash cooked sweet potatoes. To prevent darkening, dip cut potatoes in a solution of ascorbic acid dissolved in a little water or in lemon or orange juice. Mix the juice or ascorbic acid with mashed potatoes. Pack them tightly in containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Cover the surface snugly with a layer of freezer paper or film, then seal and freeze at 0 degrees.
The nutritionist offers the following ways to add more sweet potatoes to your meals and snacks:
– Pack your lunch with a baked sweet potato 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 strips to eat with your favorite dip.
– Blend into a breakfast smoothie.
– Substitute sweet potatoes in recipes calling for white potatoes or apples.
For additional information about yams and sweet potatoes, contact the LSU AgCenter office in your parish.