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Different varieties of sweet potatoes: how do they differ in taste?

Updated on May 15, 2012
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I am a sweet potato addict.

As part of a goal to pack in the veggies, I started eating salads for lunch. Looking to make the salads heartier and more filling while capitalizing on maximum nutrient content, I tried throwing some roasted sweet potatoes over leafy greens. The effects were immediate: I feel fuller throughout the work day and energized enough to go for evening runs. Their sunny color reflects their mood enhancing properties; I literally feel more cheerful throughout the afternoon! Sweet potatoes also satisfy my sweet tooth, and I swear, in the dead of winter my skin started looking tanner (beta-carotene effects).

My favorite lunch is a spinach salad topped with sweet potato (plus possibly some other roasted veggies like brussel sprouts or asparagus) and Annie's Woodstock dressing. The tahini in this dressing is a nutty complement to the sweet potato flavor.

The Difference between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

This topic has been a point of confusion for many well meaning shoppers, such as myself, who know that the sweet potato is far more nutritious than the yam. A great hub has been published outlining their differences.

Vitamin A

Did you know, the more orangey the sweet potato the higher the beta-carotene content. Vitamin A is good for your skin and is found in a lot of beauty products.

Nutritional content of sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a superfood, that is they pack a ton of nutrition into few calories.

Some highlights of sweet potato nutrition:

  • Very high in beta-carotene, a carotenoid that forms Vitamin A when absorbed into the body. This is what gives the sweet potato its yellow, or orangey color. A single serving can contain over three times your daily Vitamin A needs!
  • High in potassium - which may explain why I feel happy after imbibing in sweet potato! Potassium has been shown to have mood enhancing effects. It also relieves sore muscles, and reduces blood pressure.
  • Low glycemic index: sweet potatoes are certainly sweet, but they contain slow releasing sugars that give you energy over a longer period of time and do not result in large spikes in blood sugar.
  • High in antioxidants, anti-carcinogenic, and they also have anti-inflammatory properties.

Conducting the taste testing were two PhD scientists (along with myself). Rigorous notes were taken.
Conducting the taste testing were two PhD scientists (along with myself). Rigorous notes were taken. | Source

The Great Sweet Potato Taste Test

Recently I was at Whole Foods and saw that they had lined up four different varieties of sweet potato. I was taken aback, as my usual grocery store only supplied one. Seeing it as a chance to explore my favorite food more, I decided to investigate the taste and texture differences of these four varieties.

On board I had two PhD scientists that agreed to participate in a taste test and provide extensive feedback.

The test subjects

The four sweet potato varieties were: Garnet, Hannah, Jewel, and Japanese. You can see in the photo below their different skin colors.

The line up of test subjects.
The line up of test subjects. | Source
Wrap in foil.
Wrap in foil. | Source

I wrapped them each individually in foil (to keep from drying out) and baked them side by side on a baking sheet at 375 degrees for 1 hour 10 minutes. You know they're ready when you stab them with a fork and it feels like stabbing a pat of warm butter.

Source

Slicing into the cooked sweet potatoes, I was shocked to find that under it's red exterior the Japanese sweet potato had a yellow color similar to the Hannah's.

"Wow, butter is good."

The sweet potatoes were also tested with butter and salt. The result was unsurprisingly positive.
The sweet potatoes were also tested with butter and salt. The result was unsurprisingly positive. | Source

The Results

General overall observations:

The orange fleshed sweet potatoes sliced easier as they had a smoother texture. The yellow fleshed ones were more crumbly like white potatoes. According to Livestrong.com, the orange sweet potatoes are called "moist-fleshed" and the yellow are "dry-fleshed."

The orange fleshed might make the best soups due to their texture.

The yellow fleshed would be good, more interesting substitutes for white potatoes with a steak or fish meal.

Upon tasting with butter and salt the reaction was: "Wow, butter is good."

Garnet variety
Garnet variety | Source

The Garnet

Observations:

  • earthy taste of molasses with a silky, velvety texture
  • best with butter and salt
  • imagined to be good with white flaky fish, and this is the sweet potato I have been unknowingly choosing for my spinach salads


Hannah variety
Hannah variety | Source

The Hannah

Observations:

  • closest taste and texture to a white potato
  • tastes yellow, like honey butter, but is least sweet of the four
  • imagined to be good with steak

Jewel variety
Jewel variety | Source

The Jewel

Observations:

  • sweetest of the four, "wow" taste the first time but may not be doable in large quantities
  • texture was thinner, least velvety, very high moisture content
  • imagined good with turkey

Japanese variety
Japanese variety | Source

The Japanese

Observations:

  • very creamy, also very sweet
  • they yellow inside does not match the external dark red skin
  • unlike the other three, the red skin stood out in taste and texture not unpleasantly
  • it's asking to be dressed up in spices - good with cajun flavored fish (look for sustainable fish!)

Wafting the sweet potato scent is a technique taken by some.
Wafting the sweet potato scent is a technique taken by some. | Source
Holding the sweet potato up to the light to better judge the integrity of its color.
Holding the sweet potato up to the light to better judge the integrity of its color. | Source
Listening to the sweet potato is a technique not understood by most. It takes extensive training.
Listening to the sweet potato is a technique not understood by most. It takes extensive training. | Source

Beyond taste-testing?

Some alternative techniques were used by one scientist, such as:

  1. wafting the scent of the sweet potato
  2. holding it up to the light
  3. 'listening' to the sweet potato. For the record, he reported that all sweet potatoes "sounded the same."

Favorites

The author's favorite was the Hannah, because it was the mildest, and least sweet.(Disclaimer: my uncharacteristic preference for less sweetness at this time was likely influenced by the fact that I had a large slice of cake for lunch.)

One scientist preferred the taste of the Jewel, but wasn't sure she could eat a whole one due to the intense syrupy taste.

The other scientist conceded that he could not choose.

"I thought I would have a clear favorite but they all have their own interesting story."

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    • profile image

      diane 7 months ago

      personally, i love the purple passion sweet potatoe. deep purple all the way thru. and not so sweet. delicious roasted with olive oil and italian seasonings . i grow mine in michigan. so pretty in the window as starts, and can even swipe off some leaves in winter for greens

    • profile image

      Susan 21 months ago

      Great blog. The Hannah deserves a trophy in my house. It is consistently sweet, unlike other sweet potatoes - I haven't tried the Japanese - which, occasionally, can be sour, and they are so delicious. Even my son takes a pass on buttering them. Plain, they melt like butter.

    • profile image

      Vivian 24 months ago

      I am a sweet potato fanatic- I was already familiar with all four of these types but have yet to try the Hannah, which I plan on doing tonight! :) My overall favorite would have to be the Japanese (it is sooo starchy and delicious!) but I also love the jewel and garnet, which I eat most often, and the purple-fleshed which wasn't in this article but that I recently tried and loved! My favorite food of all time, I can easily eat 3 in one sitting ;)

    • profile image

      Niko 2 years ago

      The Hannah is my favorite as well because it is the most versatile. I am on a paleo / gluten free restriction diet and this potato works well in a pie, as fries and as an ingredient in bread or pancakes.

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 3 years ago from San Francisco

      Thank you for all the information and for sharing your taste test results. I especially liked the listening test. : )

      Of those four varieties, we like the garnet best at our house, but we do find that different sweet potatoes work better in some dishes than others. The more yellow or white ones are good in soups, for example.

      Thoroughly enjoyed this page. You made it fun.

    • EatCookReview profile image

      Chantele and Julie 3 years ago from Wales

      I didn't even know there were different types, and I love sweet potato!!

    • Tara McNerney profile image
      Author

      Tara McNerney 5 years ago from Washington, DC

      Thanks CrisSp! I never knew that about wrapping in a towel before microwaving. That's a great tip. And we make sweet potatoes with a little brown sugar for Thanksgiving every year and it's delicious, I can attest to that. =)

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Fantastic hub! I love sweet potatoes. I grew up having sweet potato for snacks. When I was a kid, my mom would slice them into rounds and fry them and add brown sugar in the end of the frying time. I sometimes do the same for my girls. We also add sweet potatoes into our beef stew or beef soup with other vegies and plantain. Now a days, I would simply pop it into microwave for around 5-10 minutes depending on the size and there you go, I have my version of baked sweet potato. Quick tip though, when you pop it into microwave, wash it first, prick around with fork or slit with knife and wrap it with kitchen towel to keep it moist, microwave tends to dry it out. Cheers! Voted useful.

    • veggie-mom profile image

      veggie-mom 5 years ago

      I love this idea and I also love sweet potatoes, thanks for sharing!

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 5 years ago from Illinois

      Like Simone, I didn't know there were different types of sweet potatoes. A sweet potato was a sweet potato as far as I was concerned. I do enjoy sweet potatoes and I'll be more observant in the stores next time I buy some to see if I see a name type listed.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

      I had not realized that there was so much variance in sweet potato flavors! Hehee, you taste test evening is THE COOLEST. I love the idea. And I also love the listening and wafting techniques.

      The photos are the best- and inspiring! I have not been much of a sweet potato fan, since I generally shy away from squashes, sweet potatoes, and other "sweetish" starches, but the Hannah really does sound delicious... I've GOT to try it!