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Know Your Fruits and Veggies™: Sweet Potato
By Dawn Swidorski, Public Outreach Director
The fact of the matter is that you can get almost any fruit or vegetable anytime of the year. But there is a good case for you to consider, whenever possible, eating seasonally and locally. It reduces your carbon footprint and benefits your local economy.
Easy enough for folks in California, Florida, Texas and Arizona who enjoy mild winters and year round growing seasons. For others there are alternatives besides fresh. Don’t get me wrong, fresh is good. In fact, I’m one of those “spoiled” Californians who buys my fruits and veggies from farmer’s market each week. Now I will admit that by the end of winter I am sick of cauliflower, broccoli, artichokes, sweet potatoes and the traditional “stock” of winter veggies – but I do like the fact that my food comes from within 50 – 75 miles of where I live, and that I know the person who grows my food; but everyone doesn’t have that luxury.
So I thought it might be important to take a look at the issue of fresh vs. frozen so that you can make informed choices.
This month I’m focusing on a vegetable that most people have eaten and associate with Thanksgiving.
Frankly, the way it’s treated at Thanksgiving is almost criminal, especially when you consider its versatility and how good it is for you. I’m talking about the sweet potato.
First of all, a Sweet Potato is not actually a potato -- it’s a root not a tuber, so it isn’t even a distant cousin. It’s a member of the morning glory family. By the way, yams and sweet potatoes are not the same. True yams come from tropical and subtropical regions of the world and contain more starch and less sugar than sweet potatoes. You can recognize them easily because the flesh is a pale yellow instead of a vibrant orange.
Sweet Potatoes are native to the western hemisphere and Native Americans were already growing Sweet Potatoes when European settlers arrived.
African slaves in the South called the sweet potato “nyami” because it reminded them of the starchy, edible tuber of that name that grew in their homeland. The Senegalese word “nyami” was eventually shortened to the word “yam”.
You can purchase sweet potatoes fresh in the produce section or canned (where they are called yams – go figure).
The health benefits for the sweet potato are amazing. High in fiber and Vitamin A and E, potassium and iron, low in fat and sodium – at just 118 calories it’s a great low calorie food too. In fact, recently the sweet potato has been categorized as an anti-diabetic food, because some animal studies have shown that consumption of sweet potatoes stabilizes blood sugar levels and lowers insulin resistance.
For more information on the sweet potato
Grow a Sweet Potato as a Houseplant!
The other thing that’s cool about sweet potatoes is that they can become a living laboratory for your kids or a beautiful houseplant!
To grow your own sweet potato, choose a firm one since sometimes they are heat treated to keep them from sprouting on grocery-store shelves. But even if you don’t pick the perfect one, most grow roots in a few days after being placed in water.
1. Use four toothpicks and insert them half-way into the sweet potato at about the mid-point of the vegetable (long ways)
2. Suspend the toothpicks on the rim of a jar or mug filled with water.
3. Make sure the bottom half of the sweet potato (the pointed end) is under water.
4. Place in a sunny spot and change or add water as needed.
5. In a few days, roots will form below the water.
6. Two to three weeks later, leaves and stems will sprout from the top. Continue to grow the plant in water for a month or two.
7. After a couple of months you can pot the sweet potato in a houseplant potting mix. Keep the soil moist.
8. The stems are initially weak, so you might have to tie them to strings, wire or a stake for a short time. As the vine grows, cut it back a few inches to force the plant to grow bushy.
9. Feed once a month with a water soluble fertilizer such as 20-20-20
10. If everything goes right you may even be rewarded with lovely lilac colored flowers!
This month there were so many amazing choices for sweet potato recipes that I had a hard time limiting myself to one or even two…So here’s 4 great sweet potato recipes:
This one is great because it also includes 2 whole grains.
Comfort food Plus!
Unique twist on a pizza theme with a sweet potato instead of tomato base
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