La. sweet potatoes are nutritious treat
BATON ROUGE — The holidays are a perfect time to enjoy Louisiana sweet potatoes or yams, as they have come to be known. Louisiana yams are bred to have a soft, moist flesh and to be exceptionally sweet and flavorful.
According to LSU AgCenter nutritionist Beth Reames, not only are yams delicious, they also are a perfect choice for the health-conscious consumer. They add valuable nutrients and color to any meal and can be enjoyed all year.
The deep orange color of the sweet potatoes indicates it is rich in carotene, which becomes vitamin A inside the body, Reames said. “Vitamin A is needed for normal growth, development, reproduction, a healthy immune system and vision.”
One medium baked sweet potato provides about twice the recommended daily amount of vitamin A.
Sweet potatoes also are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B-6 and potassium — and vitamin C when baked in the skin. They are low in sodium, fat and saturated fat. One medium baked sweet potato has only 103 calories.
When buying yams, choose well-shaped, firm potatoes with smooth, bright, uniformly colored skins, Reames said. Avoid sweet potatoes with holes or cuts that penetrate the skin, which cause decay.
Freshly dug potatoes are uncured and must be cured before they are ready for baking. “They are good boiled, mashed, candied, fried and in many cooked dishes,” Reames said, “But uncured potatoes do not bake successfully.”
During the curing time, the starch is converted to sugar, making the potatoes sweet and moist. Typically, sweet potatoes are cleaned after harvest and then cured and stored until they are ready for market. Cured sweet potatoes usually come to market just before Thanksgiving.
Store cured yams in a cool, dry place where the temperature is about 55 or 60 degrees; do not store them in the refrigerator. Chilling the vegetable will give it a hard core and an undesirable taste when cooked, Reames said.
Ideally, fresh sweet potatoes should be cooked within a week or two of being purchased; however, they may be stored for up to one month. Well-matured, carefully handled and properly cured potatoes will keep for several months if the temperature and storage conditions are ideal. This usually is not possible in the home, however, and potatoes spoil easily.
To bake sweet potatoes, scrub and dry them well. Then rub them lightly with oil. Don’t wrap them in foil, but put them on a baking sheet in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake until they’re soft.
You can save energy by baking a large pan of sweet potatoes at one time, Reames said. Wrap them individually in foil and store them in freezer bags or freezer paper in the freezer.
Sweet potatoes may be cooked in the microwave, but they won’t have the sweet, syrupy flavor of oven-baked potatoes.
To microwave sweet potatoes, wash and dry them and puncture the skin a few times with a fork. Place them on a paper towel on a microwave-safe dish and cook on high for four to five minutes for the first potato, plus two to three minutes for each additional potato. Turn them over halfway through cooking.
You can boil sweet potatoes until they’re tender with the skins on and drain them immediately.
Most sweet potato dishes freeze well, Reames said. “You can save time and energy by making a sweet potato dish to serve and one to store in the freezer.”
Reames suggests the following ways to put more sweet potatoes in your diet:
—Pack a baked sweet potato for lunch and top it with vanilla yogurt or cinnamon-flavored applesauce.
—Add peeled chunks to your favorite stew.
—Switch from potato chips to sweet potato chips.
—Peel and cut them into strips to eat with your favorite dip.
—Blend them into a breakfast smoothie.
—Substitute them in recipes calling for white potatoes or apples.