Next to pumpkins and apples, sweet potatoes rank high on the list of fall’s most nutritious produce items. Like most fruits and vegetables, there are different varieties of sweet potatoes. The more spuds, the merrier! When you see the different colors, shapes, and textures at the grocery store, how do you know which one to choose? Is one better than the other?
What Is A Sweet Potato?
Some people use “sweet potato” and “yam” interchangeably, but they are quite different. Yams have a drier texture and higher starch content than a regular sweet potato. Yams are sweet, though, which explains the misconception. Sweet potatoes have a similar flavor profile to carrots, in that they are sweet, but the inherent sweetness varies between the varieties. The location, weather, and growing conditions dictate the flavor profile.
All of the sweet potato varieties described below fall under the sweet potato umbrella, even though people call them yams. Technically, yams are tubers, not root vegetables. A true yam is quite difficult to find in the United States, as most grow in Africa and Asia. A yam has the potential to grow up to 150 pounds, which a sweet potato could never do.
Garnet Sweet Potato
High in moisture with a reddish to purplish skin, Garnet sweet potatoes have an orange flesh and taste similar to winter squash. In fact, one could argue that the flavor profile is quite similar to a pie pumpkin. Because of this, Garnet sweet potatoes go great in baking recipes, including casserole or sweet potato pie.
Japanese Sweet Potato
These sweet potatoes are quite oblong and medium to large in size. The skin is purple, but the flesh is white, and typically starchier and drier than other sweet potato varieties. What you’ll notice about this sweet potato is that it has a nutty, sweet, and almost floral flavor. The Japanese sweet potato is perfect for boiling, braising, or stir-frying. You can also use it for homemade gnocchi because of the low moisture content.
Purple Sweet Potatoes
Purple on the outside and even more purple on the inside, purple sweet potatoes offer a firm meaty texture with a subtly sweet flesh. One of the great things about purple sweet potatoes is that their color intensifies during the cooking process. They are rich in anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that give them their purple hue. Great for frying, sautéing, steaming, or roasting, these purple potatoes are great for myriad side dishes. Plus, they absorb a variety of spices!
Covington Sweet Potato
Very popular in the southern United States, the Covington sweet potato has a distinct orange flesh and rose-colored peel. This sweet potato accounts for approximately 85% of sweet potato production in North Carolina, and it continues to grow in popularity. The ends taper into points and they have a slight curve to their overall shape. Covingtons have a sweet flavor, lending themselves to desserts, but they are also great when pureed, mashed, baked, or roasted.
Jewel Sweet Potato
The Jewel sweet potato has an elliptical shape and a mildly sweet taste. The firm texture and high moisture content makes the Jewel sweet potato a great all-purpose sweet potato. This is the classic sweet potato that many people think of, with a copper skin and deep orange flesh. It absorbs intense spices, but it also lends itself to sweeter preparations. One of the best ways to cook the Jewel sweet potato is to cut it into wedges, toss with sea salt, pepper, and olive oil, and bake for 30 minutes at 425º F.
Isn’t this a fun name for a sweet potato? It may look like a regular potato on the inside, but the skin is rather red or tan. When you cook an O’Henry sweet potato, it becomes quite creamy, moist, and dense. That’s why many people add it soups and stews, but you can also incorporate it into sweeter recipes. Use O’Henry sweet potatoes to make sweet potato fries, pies, or candied sweet potatoes.