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Flavors of Fall: The Sweet Potato

November 2023

Veronica M. Jones, PhD, MPH, CHES, FCHS Educator, Essex County

New Jersey farmer markets are open through October or November, making the fall months a perfect time to consume the many flavors of this season. Apples, cranberries, cauliflower, potatoes, scallions, garlic, parsnips, and greens such as cabbage, collards, chard, kale, and lettuce are among the in-season varieties available at your local market. Sweet potatoes are also a popular fall favorite for baking and cooking.

The sweet potato belongs to the morning glory family of plants, which lends to its distinctive and unique properties. There are several types of this starchy root vegetable. Some varieties include Jewel, Garnet, Beauregard, Japanese, and Purple. The Beauregard is the most common variety in the United States, with the state of North Carolina leading the country's production of sweet potatoes. Globally, sweet potatoes rank as the sixth top food crop following rice, wheat, potato, maize, and cassava.

Sweet Potato Types
Type Appearance Taste Best use
Jewel Cooper-toned skin with orange flesh Mildly sweet All-purpose
Garnet Red-purple skin with bright orange flesh Sweet Baking
Beauregard Purple-red skin with orange flesh Sweet All-purpose; especially good for baking
Japanese Purple skin with white flesh Floral, sweet, and nutty Braising, boiling, or stir-fry
Purple Purple skin with purple flesh Slightly sweet, wine-like taste Boiling, roasting, baking.
Takes longer to cook due to its drier and starchier texture

When selecting fresh sweet potatoes choose ones without any cracks, soft spots, or bruises. Look for sweet potatoes that are firm with smooth skin. Keep your sweet potatoes unwashed in a cool, dry place until you are ready to cook them. Avoid storing them in the refrigerator or a bin with onions as this will cause the potatoes to sprout faster.

Besides being delicious, sweet potatoes are a powerful addition to your diet due to their health benefits. Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and minerals including: B vitamins (Thiamin, Niacin, and Riboflavin) - Assists the body with changing carbohydrates into energy; Fiber - Aids with digestion. Potassium - Helps build muscle and supports heart health; Vitamin A (beta carotene) - Good for the immune system, cell growth, and vision; Vitamin C - Supports the immune system.

The rich nutrient content of sweet potatoes has antioxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory, and cardioprotective factors. Sweet potatoes contain phytochemicals, which are plant-based chemicals that serve as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agents.

As an antioxidant, sweet potatoes can help your body fight against free radicals that can damage your cells. Since sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index, this carbohydrate is slowly absorbed by the body and causes a lower rise in blood sugar. These factors make sweet potatoes a smart choice, especially for those with diabetes or at risk for diabetes. Including foods with anti-inflammatory properties in your diet can help with reducing your risk of stroke, and heart disease, and improving blood pressure adding to its cardioprotective factors.

Taste the flavors of this season by finding Jersey Fresh produce near you and be sure to add sweet potatoes to your fall menus.