31 Days of Vegetables

Sweet Potatoes: The Best Ways to Pick Them, Cook Them, and Eat Them

updated Jul 24, 2020
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

What could be sweeter than a sweet potato? The orange spud is, in many ways, so much more interesting than its more traditional counterpart. Whether baked, mashed, made into a casserole, or turned into fries (or even into chips), there’s little the sweet potato can’t do in a way that’s delicious and even nutritious. Here’s all you need to know about making the sweet potato a regular part of your vegetable supply, plus our top 20 recipes.

Is a Sweet Potato a Vegetable?

Sweet potato’s vegetable status gets two thumbs up! Yes, botanically the sweet potato is the root of a perennial vine — definitely vegetation. And culinarily, although the root’s flesh is used in both savory and sweet dishes, it is considered a vegetable.

What Are the Nutritional Benefits of a Sweet Potato?

Sweet potatoes are great sources of both vitamin A (which aids your immune system and vision) and fiber (which is good for your heart and gut). A standard 3.5-ounce serving of baked sweet potato has 90 calories, 3.3 grams of fiber (13% of your dv) and a whopping 384% dv of vitamin A. It’s also high in vitamin C and vitamin B-6.

The Sweet Potato Top 5

Five learned links for sweet potato-lovers.

  1. Start by learning how to make the very best basic roasted sweet potatoes.
  2. Learn three simple ways to peel and chop your sweet potatoes.
  3. Then check out the most popular sweet potato recipe on Pinterest. (It involves garlic butter and Parmesan!)
  4. Not sure about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? Here’s our explainer.
  5. And here’s a case for making a big batch of baked sweet potatoes all at once.

How to Choose the Best Sweet Potatoes

Funnily enough, many grocery stores sell sweet potatoes under two different names: “sweet potato” and “yam.” But a true yam is something else entirely, and not typically available in U.S. supermarkets. The ones labeled “yam” tend to have more orange-colored flesh, be softer and sweeter, and work better in desserts or dishes where you want the sweetness to shine. The ones labeled “sweet potato” tend to be drier and firmer, and work better where you need firmness (as in fries) or want the dish to be a little less sweet.

Either way, look for medium-sized tubers with unmottled, unbroken skin. If it’s soft or rubbery, or if the skin is wrinkled, then it’s no longer fresh and not worth buying.

Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

As noted above, a true yam is actually an entirely different plant. It’s an African tuber that is very starchy and not at all sweet, and they can grow up to five feet long. Because U. S. supermarkets are technically mislabeling sweet potatoes as yams, there isn’t necessarily any consistency to what variety will be called a yam, and what will be called a sweet potato. Your best best is to go by sight: The lighter and paler varieties are likely to be starchier, and the darker oranger ones will be sweeter.

The Best Ways to Cook Sweet Potatoes

Looking for the best ways to make sweet potatoes?

How Long Do Sweet Potatoes Last?

If you’re one of those people who often goes digging in the pantry to discover what you’ve recently bought, sweet potatoes can be a lifesaver. Properly stored, they can keep for weeks or even months. That said, there’s good reason not to store them in the refrigerator: When sweet potatoes are too cold, it can change the way the starches break down, making them tougher to cook and eat. According to the USDA, the ideal temperature for keeping sweet potatoes is about 60 degrees.

Are Sweet Potatoes Paleo?

People have been trying to replicate the diet of Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in an effort to be healthier since at least the 19th century. However, the current fad for Paleolithic — or Paleo — dieting came from a 2002 book called The Paleo Diet by Loren Cordain.

Cordain’s official website lists sweet potatoes as part of the Paleo diet, although regular potatoes aren’t on the list. The site also notes, however, that sweet potatoes have a high glycemic index (this is more true when they’re baked) and recommends people who are trying to lose weight on the diet go easy on them.

How Much Fiber Is in Sweet Potatoes?

The nutrition in any food changes depending on the way it is cooked, and so the fiber content in a sweet potato depends on how you’re eating it. Unlike potatoes, sweet potatoes are actually edible raw (they make a delicious raw winter slaw in fact), and a 3.5 ounce serving of raw sweet potato has 3 grams of fiber, or about 12% dv. Not bad!

A baked sweet potato has a hair more, at 3.3 grams per serving, but a boiled sweet potato has just 2.5 grams. And a mashed sweet potato has the least, at only 1.7 grams per serving. Sweet potato leaves, however, have the most, with 5 grams per serving!

Can You Eat Sweet Potato Skin?

Sweet potato skin is not only edible, but it’s also delicious — especially if you load the skins up with cheese and beans and bacon!

No Fresh Sweet Potatoes? What to Substitute.

Because they keep so well, your local grocery store is likely to carry sweet potatoes all year. But they are also available frozen in a bag, as pre-cut fries, or even mashed.

If no sweet potatoes can be found, a sweeter winter squash like butternut or kabocha can occasionally be used, depending on the recipe. Going the other way, some adventurous home cooks have used sweet potato as a substitute for butter when baking, although we can’t speak to how well that works.

Can Dogs Eat Sweet Potatoes?

Are sweet potatoes good for our furry four-legged friends? According to the American Kennel Club, yes they can be. Sweet potatoes are just as healthy for canines as they are for humans. In fact, you’ll find sweet potatoes listed as an ingredient in many commercial dog foods! The club recommends cooking them thoroughly and removing the skins. However, when introducing any new food into your pet’s diet, it’s best to consult with your family veterinarian first.

The Best Ways to Use Up Leftover Sweet Potatoes

Last night’s leftover mashed sweet potato makes a great addition to the next morning’s pancakes! And roasted or cubed sweet potatoes can always be added to a breakfast hash. If you’re looking for more ways to reuse them, try some of our top recipes, below.

Our Top 20 Sweet Potato Recipes

Still Looking? Here’s Even More.

What’s your favorite recipe or use for sweet potatoes? Any favorite way to cook it?

31 Days of Vegetables: How to fall in love with vegetables in 31 days. How many of these splendid veg have you eaten this month? Take a look at the whole list and take our July challenge to eat every single one!