Sweet potato or yam: Which is it?

Sweet potatoes are a rich source of Vitamin A.

As the leaves begin to turn, the harvest season is now in full swing. Sweet potatoes are one of those late fall harvested vegetables because they require a long frost free season. Sweet potatoes are actually members of the morning glory family. Sweet potatoes are a true American plant. The Native Americans used them as a main source of nourishment long before the Revolutionary War.

Yams, on the other hand, are a totally different plant species that require tropical climate. Yams are actually related to lilies and grasses.

The edible portion of the sweet potato plan is a swollen storage root. The color of the skin and flesh of the sweet potato varies in color from white to orange to red depending upon the variety. Sweet potatoes can be divided into two types: dry-flesh and moist-flesh, though this is more of a reference to the taste than the actual moisture content of the vegetable. Moist-flesh varieties will convert more of the starch present to sugars during cooking. This leads to a sweeter, softer cooked product than the dry-flesh varieties. Both types are rich in beta carotene, which the human body converts to vitamin A. In addition sweet potatoes contain vitamin C, fiber, and potassium. A small baked or boiled sweet potato has about 135 calories before the addition of butter.

When selecting sweet potatoes, look for firm, plump, and blemish-free produce. The sweet potato needs to have a bright uniform color. Avoid any sign of decay because it will only get worse. Raw sweet potatoes do not have to be refrigerated. For ideal storage conditions, store them in a cool, dry, dark place, unwrapped for up to two months or they can be stored at room temperature for up to one week.

Cooked sweet potatoes can be stored in the refrigerator, frozen, canned, or dehydrated. Although the sweet potato is harvested in the fall, it is available for purchase all year round. To enjoy this nutrient dense vegetable, cook it with the skin on. Michigan State University Extension recommends washing the outside skin very well under fresh running water. Enjoy this bright orange fall vegetable today!

To preserve these delicious fall vegetables, freezing, canning, or drying are options.

To freeze the sweet potatoes they need to be cooked first. Cook the sweet potatoes until they are tender either in water, steam, in a pressure canner, or baked in the oven. Allow the sweet potatoes to cool to room temperature. Next remove the peeling from the sweet potatoes. The sweet potatoes can be cut in half or sliced or mashed for freezing.To prevent darkening dip the whole sweet potato or slices for five seconds in a solution of ½ cup lemon juice to 1 quart of water.

To prevent mashed sweet potato from darkening mix 2 tablespoons of either orange or lemon juice with each quart of mashed sweet potatoes.

To prepare baked sweet potatoes for freezing, wash the sweet potatoes under fresh running water to remove any soil or other debris. Next trim out any blemishes or bad spots. Bake the sweet potatoes in a 350 degrrees Fahrenheit oven without peeling until they are slightly soft. Cool the sweet potatoes to room temperature. Once cooled remove the skin and wrap individually in aluminum foil. Put the wrapped sweet potatoes in freezer strength plastic bags and freeze. To use the sweet potatoes, thaw in the refrigerator. Complete the baking process in a 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven immediately before serving. Leave the sweet potatoes wrapped in the foil.

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