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Different varieties of sweet potatoes: how do they differ in taste?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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."
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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!)
Some alternative techniques were used by one scientist, such as:
- wafting the scent of the sweet potato
- holding it up to the light
- 'listening' to the sweet potato. For the record, he reported that all sweet potatoes "sounded the same."
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."