Sweet Potatoes: Not Just a Super Food

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Japanese sweet potatoes

My kids love sweet potatoes. I mean, they really, really love them. They would eat them multiple times a day, every day (but as a fan of variety, I limit their intake to about one a day).  I always have several varieties of this terrific tuber on hand.

I didn’t know just how much A, my younger daughter, liked them until we were in H’s kindergarten classroom for Open House. While B looked around the room at H’s work and chatted with her teacher, I toured the room with A, finally ending up on a rainbow-colored rug. We had been working on colors, so I tested her by pointing to the colors and asking her to identify them.

“What’s this color?” I said, pointing to blue. “Boo,” she answered.

“What’s this color?” I said, pointing to yellow. “Lellow.”

“What’s this color?” I said, pointing to orange. “Sweet tato.”

After almost falling on the floor laughing, I asked her again to make sure I heard her right. Yep, apparently “sweet potato” is synonymous with orange.

Since then, a variety of orange and yellow objects have been identified as “sweet potato” (even though she does call them “orange” and “yellow” on occasion as well–can’t figure that one out). These objects include: a yellow toy golf club (the driver), an orange fire hydrant, an orange character in one of her board books, someone’s shirt (maybe yellow, maybe orange), orange ladybugs, letters on a T-shirt, and actual sweet potatoes. If you are ever in a public place and hear a little girl screaming “sweet potato!”, we might just be around the corner.

So why do I think of sweet potatoes as a super food? Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are especially rich in beta-carotene (which coverts to vitamin A in your body), and all sweet potatoes are good sources of vitamin B6, vitamin C, potassium, manganese, and fiber. Athletes find that they are great as a post-workout/recovery snack because they help to replace lost glycogen stores, and those who are pregnant, nursing, recovering from illness, and/or those who need more carbohydrates in their diets will benefit from the nutrient-dense, complex carbs that sweet potatoes provide. They are incredibly versatile, working well in both sweet and savory preparations. And they are delicious!

Don’t like sweet potatoes? Then you probably haven’t tried a variety that you like, or you haven’t yet found a preparation that you like. Each variety that I have tried is very different in texture and flavor. The kiddos especially like the Japanese sweet potatoes, which are purplish on the outside and yellowish on the inside and a bit sweeter and starchier than their orange cousins, but they also enjoy the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes. White-fleshed sweet potatoes are my favorite: they have a mild, slightly sweet flavor with a firm texture.

Japanese sweet potato, white-fleshed sweet potato, orange-fleshed sweet potato

The next time you happen to be at a farmer’s market or grocery store that has more than one variety of sweet potato (or yam, which is starchier than a sweet potato and from a completely different botanical family), buy one of each and try them out. I think the Japanese sweet potatoes are best steamed, while the orange-fleshed ones are great baked whole or as fries. They are delicious mashed with butter and a little salt, or diced and sautéed in coconut oil or duck fat. My kids eat them plain, often with the skins still on them. Email me or leave me a comment if you want some help finding a recipe that you will enjoy. I’m confident I can convert you into a sweet potato fan!

And as for the whole “sweet potato” as a color, I think A might just be a budding foodie. After all, I’ve just started hearing her call some brown/tan items “applesauce.”

Sources: WikipediaWorld’s Healthiest Foods, Balanced Bites

This post is linked to Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday blog carnival.

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