Sweet potato is not just only sweeten your taste buds but also good for your cardiovascular health! This underground tuber initially cultivated in the Central American region.
Botanically, this starchy tuber plant is a dicotyledon, belonging to the family of Convolvulaceae, and named botanically as Ipomoea batatas. Its crunchy, sweet flesh is an abundant source of flavonoid pigment antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber that are essential for optimal health.
Sweet potato is grown throughout the tropical and warm temperate regions. The crop just requires sufficient water and little attention for their successful cultivation. The tuberous root features oblong/elongated shape with tapering ends and has smooth outer skin whose color may range from red, purple, brown, and white, depending upon the cultivar type.
Sweet potatoes should not be confused with yams, another starchy root widely grown in Western Africa. Yams are indeed larger in size and can weigh up to 120 pounds in weight and 2 meters in length. Yams are tropical crops and indeed never grow where the temperature dips below 68 degrees F. Important differentiating features that distinguish sweet potatoes from yams are:
Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are dicotyledonous, relatively smaller and possess very thin peel.
Whereas, yams are monocotyledons, larger, feature thick, rough, dark brown to pink skin depending upon the cultivar type.
Internally, sweet potato has starchy, sweet flesh which, depending upon the pigment concentration, ranges from white through yellow, orange, and purple.
Boniatos, also known as Cuban sweet potatoes, feature dry, starchy flesh underneath the reddish-brown skin. They have mildly sweet flavor and cooked in similar fashion like potatoes.
Sweet potato greens are also edible. In fact, the tender shoots and leaves contain more nutrients and dietary fiber than some of the popular green leafy vegetables like spinach.
Health benefits of Sweet potato
Sweet potato is one of the high-calorie starch foods (provide 90 calories/100 g vis a vis to 70 calories/100 g in potato). The tuber, however, contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, and is a rich source of dietary fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals than potatoes.
Its calorie content mainly comes from starch, a complex carbohydrate. Sweet potato has higher amylose to amylopectin ratio than that in potato. Amylose raises the blood sugar levels rather slowly on comparison to simple fruit sugars (fructose, glucose, etc.) and therefore, recommended as a healthy food even in diabetes.
The tuber is an excellent source of flavonoid phenolic compounds such as beta-carotene and vitamin-A. 100 g of tuber provides 14,187 IU of vitamin-A and 8,509 µg of ß-carotene, a value which is the highest for any root vegetables. These compounds are powerful natural antioxidants. Vitamin-A is also required for the human body to maintain the integrity of mucosa and skin. It is a vital nutrient for healthy vision. Consumption of natural vegetables and fruits rich in flavonoids helps protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
The total antioxidant strength of raw sweet potato measured in terms of oxygen radical absorbance capacity (ORAC) is 902 µmol TE/100 g.
The tubers are packed with many essential vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), and thiamin (vitamin B-1), niacin, and riboflavin. These vitamins are essential in the sense that the human body requires them from external sources to replenish. These vitamins function as cofactors for various enzymes during metabolism.
Sweet potato provides a good amount of vital minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, manganese, and potassium that are essential for enzyme, protein, and carbohydrate metabolism.
Sweet potato top greens are indeed more nutritious than the tuber itself. Weight per weight, 100 g of fresh leaves carry more iron, vitamin-C, folates, vitamin-K, and potassium but less sodium than its tuber.
Selection and storage
Although sweet potato leaves are being eaten in some parts of the world, its root which is the toast of sweet potato lovers. In the markets, buy fresh tubers with intact smooth skin and firm consistency. Go for organic varieties for best taste and nutrition levels.
Avoid soft, flabby, or wilted roots. Also, avoid those sound woody in texture as they tend to be excess in fiber and unappetizing. As in potatoes, sprouting would make them lose flavor and unwanted.
Wash them in clean running water to remove sand and soil. They should be stored in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place.
Preparation and serving methods
To prepare, wash the root in cold water. It can be eaten raw with skin. However, for baking preparations, its skin may be peeled off before or after cooked.
Here are some serving tips:
Fresh sweet potatoes can be eaten raw.
Baking in water with a pinch of salt would give a delicious taste to them. Peel the skin before eating.
Camote, sweet potato known as in the Latin world, is used extensively in the Mexican cuisine.
Camote cue, wherein the sweet potato chips deep-fried and caramelized with brown sugar, is a popular street food in the Philippines.
It is used in the preparation of soups, curries, stews, and in the confectionery to make cakes, pie, etc.
The tuber also used to prepare different kinds of baby foods.
Sweet potato chips are enjoyed as favorite snacks.
Sweet potatoes contain oxalic acid, a naturally occurring substance found in some vegetables that may crystallize as oxalate stones in the urinary tract in some people.
Therefore, individuals with known history of oxalate urinary tract stones may have to avoid eating them. Adequate intake of water is, therefore, advised to maintain normal urine output in these individuals to minimize stone risk.