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Sweetpotato History

History of Sweetpotatoes

Sweetpotatoes are as American as apple pie! Native Americans were growing sweetpotatoes when Columbus came in 1492, and by the 16th century, sweetpotatoes were being cultivated in the southern states, where they became a staple in the traditional cuisine. With their delicious sweetness and mild flavor, sweetpotatoes take to a variety of ethnic seasonings, making them a go-to ingredient no matter what the season.

From Southern to Thai, Caribbean to BBQ, sweetpotatoes are used in cuisines all over the world as a satisfying and versatile vegetable with a well-earned reputation for being nutritious.

How to Choose

There are hundreds of types of sweetpotatoes ranging from white and mild to deep red and super sweet. Many are grown in small quantities and can be found at local farmers markets. Lucky for you, North Carolina sweetpotatoes are available every month of the year. When selecting sweetpotatoes, it is important that they are firm to the touch and show no signs of decay. For even cooking, choose sweetpotatoes that are uniform in shape and size.

The following are three popular sweetpotato varieties found in grocery stores nationwide. Depending on flavor and texture, certain sweetpotato varieties lend themselves better to certain recipes.

Covington – A favorite for mashing or roasting, the Covington has rose colored skin and sweet orange flesh.

White  – These generally have a pale copper skin, almost like a potato, but don’t be fooled. This tater’s white flesh is sweet, creamy and ideal for soups and stews

Oriental  – oriental sweetpotatoes have red skin and dry, white flesh. Roast these up with a few of your favorite root veggies for a colorful side dish.

Purple  – these sweetpotatoes have both purple flesh and purple skin.  Their deep nutty flavor lends well for baking and roasting.  Try a purple sweetpotato cheesecake.  A truly decadent treat to both see and eat!

Many types of sweetpotatoes are grown in North Carolina. Although some are grown for special uses, the majority are the orange-fleshed, moist, sweet varieties that are widely accepted in the fresh market and for processing. The list of sweetpotato varieties changes rapidly and new varieties with superior qualities are released almost annually. Each variety has certain advantages and disadvantages. For a complete comparison of sweetpotato varieties, refer to our variety table.

How to Store

Now that you’ve found your spud of choice, follow our tips on how to store sweetpotatoes so you can have fresh, sweet and delicious sweetpotatoes whenever a craving strikes.

Follow our proper storage procedures carefully in order to prevent your sweetpotatoes from bruising or spoiling.

  • Avoid storing sweetpotatoes in the refrigerator, which will produce a hard center and unpleasant taste.
  • Instead, store your sweetpotatoes in a cool, dry, well ventilated container. For best results, store them in a basement or root cellar away from strong heat sources.
  • Your sweetpotatoes can keep for up to two weeks if stored properly.

How to Cut & Prepare

Matchsticks, cubes, wedges, planks and more! Sweetpotatoes are versatile and delicious in every way, shape and form! Not sure how to cut sweetpotatoes? You’re not alone! A recent consumer research survey showed that 20% of young adults don’t feel that sweetpotatoes are easy to cook.

To help conquer the sweet-tater trepidation, the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission partnered with Jeanine Donofrio of the blog Love & Lemons to show you how to cut sweetpotatoes!

You may have found that larger sweetpotatoes can prove difficult to cut. We recommend using a large knife and gently apply your weight forward to thrust the knife through the sweetpotato. To avoid browning, rinse the flesh with cold water.

Watch our video featuring Jeanine to learn how to cut sweetpotatoes into matchsticks, cubes and wedges.

If you’d like to download or print this information, please click here for a downloadable “Sweetpotato 101” resource.