The first post I wrote for JerseyMomsBlog was about eggs. Today, I feel it’s time to revisit one of my favorite foods for kids, the sweet potato.
The sweet potato is super high in beta-carotene (a precursor to vitamin A)—just a few ounces can provide 100% or more of the recommended daily amount of vitamin A. It is also an excellent source of vitamin C and manganese, a good source of copper, fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, and iron (see www.whfoods.com).
In some grocery stores, you may be seeing them called “yams” although it’s unlikely they are actually yams. I’ve always wondered why the confusion. In my local grocery store, they are labeled Lousiana yams, so I checked out the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission’s website (www.sweetpotato.org), which says:
- 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 “yam.”
- “Yam” also refers to sweet potatoes that are grown in Louisiana. When the orange-fleshed, Puerto Rican variety of sweet potatoes was adopted by Louisiana producers and shippers, they called them “yams” to distinguish them from the white-fleshed sweet potatoes grown in other parts of the country. The yam reference became the trademark for Louisiana-grown sweet potatoes.
- There is a difference between sweet potatoes grown in northern states and those grown in Louisiana. Sweet potatoes produced in the northern states are mostly “firm” and tend to be drier, more mealy, and yellow in flesh. People in Louisiana enjoy the second type, “soft”, which is higher in natural sugar, is more moist, and has a bright orange flesh color. Most often it is the “soft” type which is referred to as a yam.
In addition, the Everyday Mysteries section of the US Library of Congress website (www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries) says:
- In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties.
- Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!
North Carolina is actually the largest grower of sweet potatoes by far, with 55,000 acres of sweet potato fields (C Dimartino, Produce News Daily, March 18, 2011). But this is JerseyMomsBlog, so we should give a respectful nod to New Jersey’s sweet potato growers, who tend to about 1000 acres.
I feel I’ve become a bit of a connoisseur of the varieties sold in my local grocery stores. Although the Garnet yams at Whole Foods were gorgeous, there were too dry. I’m not sure what variety Trader Joe’s is selling, but they are delicious and the long and thin shape suits me very well for how I cook them. Foodtown’s Louisiana yam is a staple in our house. And I’m hoping the Red Bank Farmer’s Market won’t disappoint me this fall! (Based on the awesome white potatoes I bought there recently, I suspect not).
My favorite thing about the sweet potato is ease of preparation and portability. It tastes great with no fuss. I’ve read the most healthful way is to steam or bake it, which I would like to do more often, but microwaving is so fast, that’s my method of choice for now.
I pop the whole thing in the microwave (washed, poked, and wrapped in wax paper). I let it sit on the counter to come to room temperature, and then cut in half, squeeze it a bit to get the mush to come out a bit, and hand it to the kids. We call it a “sweet potato ice cream cone.” They eat this as a snack in front of the TV, in the car, at the park, and on the beach (great food for sandy hands). If I’m heading to a place or event that I’m not sure will have food for the kids, it’s likely there’s a microwaved sweet potato in the bottom of my purse.
This is an original post for Jersey Moms Blog by Darla, a New Jersey mom.