What is a sweet potato?
Sweet potato crushed with butter, scented with lime juice and fresh coriander leaves and served alongside a perfectly grilled piece of fish is a sublime, simple meal that is full of flavour.
The sweet potato is native to Central America. Christopher Columbus found it in Haiti and introduced it to Europe. The Spanish loved this vegetable, whereas the English took a little longer to embrace it in their cooking.
Nowadays, sweet potato is popular in Jamaica, the West Indies and New Zealand, where it is thought the Polynesians introduced it in the 14th century.
Three varieties of sweet potato are available in Australia. The most common type is the gold variety, which has orange skin and bright orange flesh. The other varieties are the white- skinned type, with creamy white flesh, and the purple sweet potato, with pink to red skin and creamy white flesh. The white and purple sweet potatoes are not as sweet as the gold variety and discolour quickly after being peeled.
Sweet potato is sometimes confused with yam or taro, popular in the Pacific Islands and New Guinea, but these two vegetables are produced by different species of plants.
Why sweet potato is good to eat
- Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamins A, C and B6.
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Sweet potato contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of sweet potato (orange flesh) supplies 270 kJ (320 kJ for white-fleshed varieties).
How are they grown and harvested?
There are a couple of different ways to grow sweet potato plants. The first method involves using cuttings from another established sweet potato plant. The second method involves removing a sprouting root and using it to develop a new plant. The sweet potato plant is a trailing vine with long stems and oval leaves.
The sweet potato vine grows best in hot, humid temperatures in Queensland, South Australia, the Northern Territory and South Australia and needs plenty of water. The sweet potatoes grow from the roots of the vine and are called tubers. They are ready to harvest when the vine becomes dry and dies.
Choosing sweet potato
Choose medium-sized sweet potatoes with smooth, undamaged skin. Avoid those with black spots, soft patches or cracked skin. You should also avoid sweet potatoes that are sprouting.
How to store and keep sweet potato
Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. Do not store in the fridge. Use sweet potatoes within one or two weeks.
How to use
Add a twist to baked sweet potato – toss chunks of sweet potato with ground ginger, allspice and salt and pepper, then splash with dry apple cider, some cream and bake until tender.
- Make a simple side dish – toss slices of sweet potato in oil with chopped herbs (try oregano or rosemary) and grill until crunchy and blistered.
- Add zing to sweet potato mash – boil sweet potato, add a knob of butter and grated ginger and mash until smooth.
- Spice up sweet potato soup – cook some curry paste until fragrant, add grated sweet potato and stock, then stir in coconut milk, whiz in a food processor and garnish with freshly chopped coriander leaves.
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Better Health Channel
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