Sweet potatoes were always a part of my mother’s southern holiday table that extended hospitality to our family and guests. Candied sweet potatoes were customarily made from scratch and we continue to use this recipe to carry on our family traditions. But sweet potatoes are not just a fall or winter holiday treat. The colorful sweet potato is a nutrition powerhouse. Though they are traditionally served at holiday meals in November and December, they can be found in grocery stores all year around at an economical price.
There are about 400 different varieties of sweet potatoes and their flesh may be white, orange, yellow, red or purple – with textures ranging from firm, dry and mealy to soft and moist. In general, they are an excellent source of vitamin A and beta-carotene, and a good source of vitamin C, B6, manganese, potassium and fiber (4 grams per medium potato). Beta-carotene is a powerful antioxidant that has been shown to reduce risk for cardiovascular disease and various forms of cancer in the breasts, kidneys and gastrointestinal tract. Antioxidant properties have been shown to reduce blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and even improve eye health. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of specific phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals) that are associated with healthy aging and memory enhancement.
What is the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? They can be used fairly interchangeably within recipes, but the yam does not have all the nutritious benefits of the sweet potato. Yams contain more starch and less vitamin A and vitamin C. They have a slick texture and a stronger, much less sweet taste than the garden variety sweet potato.
When selecting sweet potatoes, look for small- to medium-sized potatoes that are free of bruises, soft spots and cracks. Darker varieties contain more beta-carotene. Sweet potatoes will stay fresh for about 10 days if stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated location. Do not put uncooked sweet potatoes in the refrigerator.
When preparing sweet potatoes, thoroughly wash the outside or remove the skin completely to get rid of contaminants that could be on it. Cook immediately after cutting, or place in a bowl of water to avoid dark discoloration that occurs when the flesh comes in contact with air and is oxidized. If left whole with skin on, poke holes in them before baking in the oven or in the microwave. The sweet potato works as an appetizer, side dish, main dish or even dessert with some brown sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on top. It can also be added to soups, muffins or bread to boost the health advantages of these foods.
Here are some of my favorite recipes to get you started!
Spray muffin tins with non-stick cooking spray or use paper liners. Cream butter, applesauce & sugar. Add eggs & mix well. Blend in sweet potatoes. Sift the flour with baking powder, salt, cinnamon & nutmeg. Add alternately with the milk. Do not over mix. Fold in nuts & raisins. Fill muffin tins full.
Bake at 400 degrees F. for 20 to 22 min.
Yield: 18 muffins
Source: adapted from The Williamsburg Cookbook, 1975
Nutritional analysis per muffin:
calories 170 calories from fat 30 total fat 3g saturated fat 1g cholesterol 25mg sodium 135mg total carbohydrate 32g
dietary fiber 1g sugars 18g protein 3g vitamin A 35% vitamin C 2% calcium 6% iron 6%
Tip: Sweet potato muffins can be frozen & reheated.