The Sweet Potato

It’s Not Just a Potato

February marks the National Sweet Potato Month, so let’s use this occasion to learn a bit more about this delicious vegetable. There are many reasons why we like sweet potatoes, and why they shouldn’t be just a “Thanksgiving-food”. Not only does this produce go well with meats, fruits and other vegetables, is available year round, but it is also full of nutrients. The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, is native to Central and South America, and often called ‘yam’ in stores. However, sweet potatoes and yams belong to different botanical groups. While their names are commonly used interchangeably, true yams are native to Africa and usually not found in grocery stores.

Sweet potatoes are high in carbohydrates and fiber, and are an excellent source of vitamin A and C, potassium, and even contain some iron. Varieties with dark orange flesh contain more beta-carotene (which our body converts to vitamin A) than the paler kind. Only one medium-sized sweet potato can provide more than one and a half of the recommended dietary allowance for vitamin A, a nutrient that is used by our bodies for growth, vision and bone remodeling. On the other hand, this nutrient-rich vegetable is fat- and cholesterol-free and low in sodium. Sounds like it comes very close to nature’s perfect food, doesn’t it?

Fresh sweet potatoes can last up to 3 to 5 weeks if stored in a dark cool place (55°F), and should not be refrigerated. To prepare sweet potatoes, we can chose from a variety of methods: baking, boiling, frying, broiling, and even microwaving. Before baking or microwaving, a sweet potato should be pricked with a fork several times. The skin can be peeled or left on for more fiber. To clean the skin before cooking, the potato should be scrubbed with a vegetable brush and water.

With this information at hand, it makes sense to start including sweet potatoes in our everyday diets. So, here we go:

Sweet Potato Foil Packet Tacos (6 servings)


· 1/2 pound ground beef or turkey

· 3 tablespoon taco seasoning

· 1/2 cup tomato sauce

· 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

· 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes (about 2-3 medium)

· 2 tablespoons butter, divided

· 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

· 1-1/2 cups fresh chopped spinach

· 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese


1. Preheat oven to 425°F.

2. In a skillet over medium-high heat, brown ground meat. Stir in taco seasoning, tomato sauce and beans; set aside.

3. Lay out six 12-inch long pieces of aluminum foil; spray each piece with non-stick spray.

4. In the center of a piece of foil, place 1 cup of sweet potatoes, 1 teaspoon butter, 1/8 teaspoon salt, 1/4 cup spinach, 1/3 cup taco meat and 1/4 cup of cheese

5. Fold sides of foil in over the mixture; fold the top and bottom ends of the foil inward and seal. Repeat with remaining foil and ingredients.

6. Place packets on rimmed cookie sheet; bake until sweet potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes.

7. Serve with sour cream or guacamole.

Source: North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission (

For more information contact Ludmila Keller at Richland County Extension (406-433-1206).


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