Sunday, December 30, 2012

In praise of Ipomoea batatas, the sweet potato

I love sweet potatoes.  To me, they are one of the yummiest, most satisfying starches around (and I take my starches very seriously).  It was not always thus.  When I was a little kid, I would only eat sweet potatoes if they had been candied.  I don't know whether sweet potatoes have gotten sweeter or my tastes have changed, or both, but now I like plain, baked sweet potatoes the best.  I bake them until they are sitting in sticky puddles of caramelized sugar, and they are perfect without anything added to them.  They certainly don't need to be candied -- they already are candy.

Sweet potatoes come in several different colors.  A week or so ago I bought these purple ones from Trader Joe's:

Butter knife included for scale
 They were kind of puny and unassuming, albeit with an intriguing purple tinge to the skin.  But look what happens to them when they're baked, peeled, and mashed:

Purple sweet potatoes are very high in anthocyanins, the same antioxidants that are in blueberries.  I don't know if the sweet potatoes mugged some blueberries for their antioxidants or what, but whoa.  That is some purple food.

I'd say the main reason to buy these is the color.  I baked them, and because they were so small they got kind of dry.  I also think the flesh is naturally drier than that of the typical orange sweet potato.  The taste is about the same.   Peeling all those little potatoes was kind of a pain.  But it was worth it because purple!

Yesterday I went produce shopping at Wegman's, which is usually a good place to get sweet potatoes.  I didn't see any purple ones, but I got about 7 or 8 pounds of orange and two pounds of white.  I had never tried the white ones before and thought I would check them out.  This morning I baked them all and peeled them, so they'd be ready to eat throughout the week:

The "white" ones.  As you can see, the flesh is more of a Yukon Gold sort of color.

Classic orange.  Look at all those dark spots where the sugars caramelized.  Om nom nom.

  Wikipedia says the white sweet potatoes are not as sweet as the orange ones.  They must be thinking of some other white sweet potatoes.  These were hella sweet, maybe even sweeter than the orange ones.  They were so sweet, in fact, that I couldn't eat my usual lunchtime fruit because I was on sugar overload.

My lunch.  "White" sweet potato, broccoli, and soy kheema.  Yes, we are still eating that stuff.
Some fun facts about sweet potatoes:

  • They are native to Central America and were first cultivated in what would become the Southern United States in the 16th century.
  • They are members of the same genus as morning glories.  Check out this blossom: 
  • They are not yams.  Totes different genus, family, everything.  According to the World's Healthiest Foods web site, which I am not linking to here because there is a disgusting picture of a dead turkey that follows you everywhere you go on it, the archetypal orange sweet potato was first introduced to the U.S. in the mid-20th century, and the growers called them "yams" to distinguish them from the sweet potatoes everyone was familiar with, which were white.  Of course the people responsible for this web site also appear to believe dead birds are among the world's healthiest foods, so I don't know how much credence to give this story.  Wegman's calls both the orange and the white sweet potatoes "yams." 

 I baked 10 pounds of russet potatoes this morning, too.  When it comes to starchy tubers, I believe in equal opportunity regardless of genus.

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