Vegucation: Sweet Potatoes

sweet potato sliced

About Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes come in different varieties, but the most common ones we see are the brown ones with orange flesh. These are sometimes called yams, but they are in fact just sweet potatoes. True yams are native to Asia and Africa and difficult to find in the U.S. A yam in your typical grocery store is most likely a mislabeled sweet potato. Other varieties can have paler skin and flesh, or even a red or purple skin with deep orange flesh. Sweet potatoes have been around for about 8,000 years, and are native to the tropical regions of South America. Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to eat sweet potatoes in 1492. George Washington even grew them in his garden in Mount Vernon, Virginia. These root vegetables have certainly been around so long for a good reason, too.

Why are they beneficial?sweet potato variety

Sweet potatoes are a great source of beta-carotene, just like other orange colored vegetables such as carrots and squash. Beta-carotene is a form of vitamin A that is found in raw foods. It’s an antioxidant that gives us radiant skin, healthy mucus membranes (including our eyes), and supports our immune systems. But what about the purple sweet potato varieties? Those contain a different antioxidant called anthocyanin that also helps our skin and immune systems. Sweet potatoes in general also have some B vitamins and essential minerals like potassium. They are a healthy carb that will give you energy and keep you feeling full.

When are they in season?

You can usually find local sweet potatoes in the late-summer and fall to the spring in Tennessee. Of course this may change depending on the weather.

How long will they keep?

If stored properly, they will be best within a week. Keep them in a cool, dark, and dry place like in a pantry. Don’t refrigerate them. The cold will alter their flavor.

How can I prepare sweet potatoes?baked sweet potato fries

You can eat potatoes with the skin on or off. Just make sure to clean all the dirt off before eating the skin. To get the optimal nutritional value, boil or steam your sweet potatoes. These methods do the least amount of damage to the nutrients. However, sweet potatoes are still good for you no matter how you cook them. Here’s a few ways to eat them besides in the traditional casserole:


  • Make these baked sweet potato fries  featured on our meal plan this week for a healthy alternative. (Recipe courtesy of Bessie Bakes.)
  • Add mashed sweet potatoes to your average pancake mix to add natural sweetness and sneak some veggies into breakfast. I like this made from scratch recipe.
  • Roast them in the oven with your favorite vegetables. They go great with broccoli or brussels sprouts, seasoned with salt, pepper, and rosemary.
  • If you have a spiralizer, you can make sweet potato noodles to make healthier stir fry or pasta.

Sweet potatoes are a great staple food because they can be savory or sweet, depending on your mood. They are also one of the most nutritious vegetables for you, so eat up!


Weekly Fig is a private membership association for local sustainable foods.

Meet the Author


Rachel Howard

Rachel is studying to become a registered dietician at UTC. She believes eating real food is the key to a healthy lifestyle, and loves to teach others about nutrition. Rachel enjoys planning healthy and tasty meals and experimenting in the kitchen with new recipes. She likes the challenge of trying to make classic family recipes healthier or learning new cooking techniques.