When is a potato not a potato? When it’s a sweet potato. Both are tuberous, starchy root vegetables, but they’re not part of the same botanical group – members of the potato’s extended family include tomatoes and peppers, while the closest relation to the sweet potato is the morning glory flower. Sweet potatoes are sweeter and creamier in texture than their namesake. They’re healthier too – high in vitamins A & C and full of antioxidants.
In the UK, sweet potatoes tend to have bright orange flesh, but there are also pink, yellow, red and purple varieties. When selecting sweet potatoes, choose ones of a similar colour and size. They should be firm, with smooth, unblemished skin and no holes or nicks. Sweet potatoes perish more quickly than potatoes and are best kept in a cool, dark, dry place for no more than a week. Avoid placing them in the fridge as the cold affects the flavour.
Scrub sweet potatoes before use if leaving the skin on. If not cooking immediately after peeling or cutting, immerse in cold water to prevent discolouration.
Sweet potato makes a great alternative to classic potato in most recipes. They can be boiled, roasted or steamed until tender, then mashed, puréed or simply just served as they are. Baked sweet potato, similar to a baked potato, should be cooked in a medium-hot oven for around 45 minutes. To microwave, treat like a baked potato, but cook on a high heat for 10 minutes, turning over once during cooking. Grilling sweet potatoes is a great method for adding caramelisation and extra flavour.
One of the best ways to serve sweet potato is in the chip form, simply cut into chips or wedges and roasted or fried, like Simon Hulstone’s squid and mackerel burger with sweet potato chips.
Sweet potatoes stand up well to pungent flavours, so are ideally partnered with curry powder, cumin, chilli, chipotle, pepper, paprika, citrus juice and ginger, as well as cinnamon and nutmeg. Iron-rich spinach and earthy beetroot cuts through their natural sweetness, as does strong-flavoured meat such as lamb, chorizo and duck.
A staple of the American South, sweet potato pie is often served instead of the traditional pumpkin pie in some parts of the country for Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. However, their predilection to top sweet potatoes with marshmallows remains lost in translation on this side of the pond.