Sweet potato fries became increasingly popular a few years ago, but sweet potatoes have been a staple food for quite some time. While the crispy version with aioli may be new, these versatile sweet potatoes, ranging in color from purple to cream to orange and red, have been a nutritious and tasty food for nearly 5000 years. Ipomoea Batatas is grown worldwide and has nearly 7,000 known varieties.
Most sweet potatoes are grown for food, with varieties such as Japanese, Garnet, Jewel Beauregard and Covington being grown depending on the growing area, light and temperature requirements and of course, taste! There are also sweet potatoes grown for their beautiful vines. While this type of sweet potato won't kill you, they aren't usually grown for food and can simply stop you from eating sweet potatoes. These are definitely ornamental plants!
Unlike most plants gardeners are familiar with, sweet potatoes are usually not started with planting seeds. Sprouts, called slips, will grow from last year's roots if kept in the right conditions. These briefs are cut from the sweet potato and placed in water to allow the roots to grow. Once there are enough roots, bury the root end in the ground to the first set of leaves and wait 3-4 months for some of the most delicious and nutritious foods around.
Due to a marketing campaign in the middle of the 20th century, orange sweet potatoes are often referred to as yams. However, don't let these advertisers confuse you. Their advertising campaign tried to market the delicious and sweet sweet potato with orange peel and separate it from other white or yellow sweet potatoes in the minds of customers. Most of the yams are Dioscorea species, not Ipomoea.
Sweet potatoes also come from a completely different family than potatoes. While sweet potatoes come from the bindweed family, potatoes come from the nightshade family along with tomatoes. This explains the very different nutritional levels provided by each. Overall, the sweet potato takes first place in the nutrition department.
Good products for growing sweet potatoes:
Orange sweet potatoes
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potato to choose from. Source: dalexfilms
The different types of sweet potatoes with orange flesh are the most common in the market. With varieties like Beauregard, Covington, Garnet and Jewel that dominate grocery store offerings, it's easy to believe that there are few varieties. However, these strains dominate the shelves due to their ability to grow tasty and large quantities on commercial farms. For the intrepid gardener looking to grow strains in the far north of the United States, or in containers or poor quality soil, there is most likely a strain that will suit your needs.
While these main strains thrive in the warm and almost tropical conditions of the American South, particularly Louisiana and North Carolina, there are strains that have been specially bred to tolerate cooler and shorter days in the North.
These red-skinned to garnet-red sweet potatoes open to reveal deep orange flesh. This particular variety is considered to be very resistant to Rhizopus soft red. It is resistant to Fusarium root rot and wilt, as well as soil rot and moderately severe root nodal nematodes. On average, it is ready to harvest between 90 and 110 days after planting. The Bayou Belle is sweet and firm and is great for baking or frying.
For growers looking for a medium sized grower, you've come to the right place. This newer variety from North Carolina is now one of the most popular strains grown both there and in Louisiana. It has moist orange flesh and long even potatoes. This is a strain that works well in cooler climates with shorter seasons. It resists fusarium wilt, soil rot and nematodes. Similar to the popular Beauregard sweet potato, but slightly darker with an orange-red skin color. It is usually ready to harvest in 110-120 days. Ideal for frying or mashing.
Ubiquitous throughout North Carolina, Jewel sweet potatoes are another dependable and delicious crop. With a deep orange pulp and copper skin, these are likely to come to your mind when you picture this vegetable. This large sweet potato can grow in zones 4 through 12 and will adapt to a variety of soils including loam, sand, and clay.
While jewels take a little longer to mature after 120-135 days, the wait is well worth the wait. Jewels are resistant to Fusarium wilt, southern root-knot nematodes, inner corks, and sweet potato beetles. They can grow in full to partial shade. As they grow, they are best fertilized with potassium and phosphorus. However, avoid nitrogen-rich fertilizers. When searching for panties, try to find strains that were bred to be Russet crack resistant. With copper-colored skin and a bright orange flesh interior, this is a wonderful all-purpose potato. It's great in cakes, baked, fried, or mashed.
Porto Rico is a popular variety for gardeners looking to grow in containers. It has a copper-colored skin and a light orange flesh color. It's a very moist food with deliciously high sugar content. It is less disease resistant than many other species and is particularly susceptible to Fusarium wilt, inner corks, and root-knot nematodes. Overall, Porto Rico is a wonderful baking variety.
The Garnet variety has bright orange flesh with a reddish appearance. Source: Farmanac
Pomegranate sweet potatoes are one of the three most popular sweet potatoes in the US. Together with Jewel and Beauregard, they make up 90 percent of all sweet potatoes grown in the United States. Grown in California, this medium-sized sweet potato has red skin and an orange interior. It is often incorrectly referred to as yam. Grows in 110 days. It keeps its shape while baking. This strain is a favorite among chefs. This type of sweet potato with orange flesh in the form of french fries can be found in many popular restaurants.
Copper skin color with bright orange pulp in the interior. This is a good type for less than ideal soils as the plant will maintain its shape in a variety of soil conditions. It produces well in sandy soils while maintaining its nutritional levels. This strain doesn't taste good right after harvest. It needs to be picked and stored for a while before the taste develops. Because of this, make your favorite dishes closer to Thanksgiving with this guy.
These red-skinned beauties have a bright orange-red interior. It's a favorite among growers with sandy soils and produces well in Louisiana. This red sweet potato has moderately good yields, but produces less than many other varieties and takes 90-100 days to grow. You can rely on the burgundy for a creamy texture and sweet taste.
This fast growing new variety is a hit with farmers. With a copper-colored skin and a dark orange flesh color, this fast-growing plant produces large sweet potatoes that will resist cracking. This strain takes around 110 days to mature and is also resistant to white maggots and Streptomyces soil rot. Be sure to plant this in beds that are known to be root-node nematode-free as this strain has not yet developed resistance.
White sweet potatoes
While many breeders are more familiar with their orange cousins, there are many types of sweet potatoes that appear with tanned skin and an off-white interior. Although these varieties have a slightly different taste than their orange pulp cousins, they are still great for baking and roasting potatoes.
The Hannah sweet potato is a standard white variety with brown skin and cream-colored yellow flesh. It is most commonly grown in California and has a sweet and earthy taste. The Hannah is quite firm and sweet when cooked, but also quite dry. The nutritional content of the Hannah and other similar sweet potatoes is lower than that of the deep orange flesh cousins.
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This plant is a fertile variety and ripens in just 90 days. It is therefore a good choice for people who grow in short windows. The root grows with a brown exterior and white flesh. This sweet potato was developed from the Beauregard orange flesh and has much of its disease resistance.
Sumor is a novelty variety, has light brown skin and is almost a yellow sweet potato, but alternates between yellow and white flesh. It is somewhat disease resistant and can grow in warmer climates. It has a wonderful taste when baked and fried.
Despite its name, this variety of sweet potato was originally developed in Louisiana. Grown primarily in California, this red-purple sweet potato has a pale white flesh color and broad disease resistance. It has a variety of uses in the kitchen and can be used as a more nutritious substitute for a rust-red potato with a better taste.
Purple sweet potatoes
Stokes purple sweet potatoes look like this when they're raw and darken as they cook. Source: FoodMayhem
Purple sweet potatoes come in two main varieties: either the Stokes purple with purple skin and purple flesh, or the Okinawa variety with white skin and purple inside. These creamy spuds have better nutritional content than their orange cousins and are smaller overall, but are great for baking and mashing.
The Stokes purple sweet potato, as the name suggests, has purple skin and a dark purple flesh color. The color comes from anthocyanins, which are also found in fruits like blueberries, which makes the nutritional content very high. It takes longer to bake than most other varieties and has less sugar, although many chefs prefer it. It's also denser with a drier texture. This is a newer strain that has a very earthy and pleasant taste and was recently developed to be disease resistant.
Okinawa is a Japanese purple sweet potato with white skin and dark purple flesh. It has been part of the Okinawan's diet for centuries. Okinawa is one of the regions of the world that is on the Blue Zone Diet, a diet that helps a significant number of the population live to be 100 years old. This sweet potato contains 150% more antioxidants from anthocyanins than blueberries.
Similar to the Stokes sweet potato, this small and long variety has a very deep purple flesh and is full of antioxidants. This variety is denser and less sweet than more common oranges, but has a much higher nutritional content.
Ornamental sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are grown from panties rather than seed potatoes. Source: snaphappykate
Ornamental sweet potato vines have long been grown for their beauty. While they grow from real sweet potatoes, these varieties are certainly not food. While they won't kill you, their taste can keep you away from real sweet potatoes for a lifetime!
These vines were bred for their beautiful leaf shapes and colors. Some vines are fertile and are intended to cover large areas as ground cover. Others are small and compact and are great for growing in small areas or in containers. Ornamental sweet potatoes can come in green, purple, red, or bronze colored leaves.
This vine is a fast growing deep purple variety with a maple-shaped leaf and grows well in warm weather. Unlike many other ornamental vines, this vine blooms, creating a light purple trumpet-shaped flower.
Margarita sweet potato
This fast growing light green vine is a great way to quickly cover walls or open areas. When the leaf grows in the shade, it turns a deeper green.
Sweet Caroline "enchanted by envy"
This light green vine with spade-shaped leaves is a heat-resistant variety that performs well in both full sun and partial shade. Be careful that, as a fast grower, you're not choking on small, slow-growing plants nearby. It may need to be pruned back occasionally to control growth.
This multi-colored purple-silver vine is a real show stopper. It grows up to four feet wide and produces a range of maple-shaped leaves of various shades of purple.
With beautiful maple-shaped leaves that look like they are from New England, this is a great addition to an ornamental garden or small balcony or patio. It is very easy to care for, requires less water than other varieties and is suitable for both full and partial shade. Given its mounds rather than lagging tendencies, it would do well for hanging baskets.
About the writer Elizabeth Cramer:
Elizabeth Cramer is a cook, plant lover and potter. She loves teaching others how to cook and growing their own food. The native Californian, who spent her childhood within earshot of the orangutans at the San Diego Zoo, now lives on the beach, where she fights against powdery mildew and farmer's tan.
Her love for food and where it comes from stems from her time in Spain as a teenager, where she lived in an olive oil factory against the wind, drove to school among olive and orange groves and ate fresh local food. Right after college, she joined the community gardens and really fell in love with growing plants. As an obsessive plant, she recently started canning in an effort to achieve her goal of living 100% on her own land.
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