North Carolina sweet potatoes

Published 5:44 pm Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Not just for Thanksgiving pie anymore

Do you know which vegetable is our official state vegetable?

It’s the sweet potato. North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the United States.

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Today, more than 40 percent of the national supply of sweet potatoes comes from North Carolina. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Carolina harvested nearly 95,000 acres of sweet potatoes in 2016, nearly 30,000 more acres than California, Louisiana and Mississippi combined.

Commonly thought of as a winter comfort food, sweet potatoes are actually available year-round.

They’re not just for Thanksgiving’s sweet potato pie anymore. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamins A and C, manganese, antioxidants and fiber, and low in fat, paired with a low glycemic index.

These large, starchy, sweet-tasting tuberous roots can be prepared in a variety of ways. Sweet potatoes are now found in frozen and microwave products, and even sweet potato chips, which are not the healthier option.

Even the young leaves and shoots are sometimes eaten as greens.

There are hundreds of types of sweet potatoes, ranging from white and mild to deep red and super sweet. We’re familiar with varieties such as the Evangeline, Bayou Belle, Beauregard, Bonita, Covington, NC05-198 and Orleans, just to name a few.

The Covington variety of sweet potato has rose colored skin and super-sweet orange flesh. It’s a favorite for mashing or roasting. Eat it whole with your favorite toppings, or cut into wedges and bake as a side dish.

As one of the top 10 most nutritious vegetables, the sweet potato should rank high on your grocery list. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, sweet potatoes are the top-ranking nutritional all-star. Rich in vitamins, antioxidants like the beta-carotene, anti-inflammatory properties and blood sugar regulation properties, the sweet potato can be a go-to vegetable for those striving for a super healthy meal.

While the names are sometimes used interchangeably, yams and sweet potatoes are two totally different plants.  Botanically, yams and sweet potatoes are not very close relatives.

The yam is more closely related to lilies than the sweet potato, and the sweet potato is more closely related to morning glories than potatoes.

The USDA has tried to regulate use of the name. Any use of the word “yam” to describe sweet potatoes must be accompanied by the name “sweet potato.”

Many yams contain more sugar than sweet potatoes, but they must be prepared properly before they are safe to eat. Yams contain chemicals such as oxalates that can have adverse health effects if eaten raw. Typically, yams go through cycles of boiling, pounding and otherwise leeching out these harmful compounds before they are eaten.

While sweet potatoes can typically be found year-round in the grocery store, November and December are when they are in season.

They are a very versatile vegetable, and can be prepared in a variety of ways as an ingredient or as a stand-alone side dish. Sweet potatoes can be grilled, baked, steamed, roasted or puréed.•


Servings: 6

Start to finish: 40 minutes


¼ cup vegetable oil

2 cups frozen or fresh chopped bell peppers and onions

2 pounds sweet potatoes (about 2 medium potatoes,), peeled and cut into small cubes

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less, depending on your taste)


Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

Sauté bell peppers and onions until tender, about 5 minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and reduce heat to medium.

Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently. Sweet potatoes may begin to stick to the skillet, but continue to stir gently until they are cooked through.

Serve and enjoy!

Jimmi Buell, extension agent, family and consumer sciences, Polk County Center of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, teaches cooking and nutrition classes with a focus on improving health with better food choices. She can be reached at or 828-894-8218.