George Mateljan at The World’s Healthiest Foods said sweet potatoes are some of the most nutritious vegetables around, and even though they may be found year-round in local markets, they are in season in November and December.

They are an excellent source of vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) and a good source of vitamin C.

Both beta-carotene and vitamin C are powerful antioxidants that work in the body to eliminate free radicals, chemicals that damage cells and cell membranes, and are associated with the development of conditions like atherosclerosis, diabetic heart disease and colon cancer.

Since these nutrients are also anti-inflammatory, they can be helpful in reducing the severity of conditions where inflammation plays a role, such as asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Vitamin B6, which is thought to help prevent strokes and heart attacks, is also found to be quite high in sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato has yellow or orange flesh, and its thin skin may either be white, yellow, orange, red or purple. Sometimes this root vegetable will be shaped like a potato, being short and blocky with rounded ends, while other times it will be longer with tapered ends. There is often much confusion between sweet potatoes and yams; the moist-fleshed, orange-colored root vegetable that is often called a “yam” is actually a sweet potato.

Sweet potatoes should be peeled deep enough to remove the hard layer beneath the skin; they will turn dark on the outside when cooked if not peeled deep enough.

Never store sweet potatoes below 35 degrees F. Just keep cool and dry for several days storage.

Use them in soups, casseroles, puddings, baked goods or as a substitute for white potatoes in your favorite recipes. They make a nice addition to stir-fries; cut them into thin sticks so they will cook quickly.

Choose firm, dark, smooth sweet potatoes without wrinkles, bruises, sprouts or decay. Even if cut away, a decayed spot may have already caused the whole potato to take on an unpleasant flavor.

Sweet potatoes spoil rapidly. To keep them fresh, store them in a dry, cool (55-60 degrees) place such as a cellar, pantry or garage. Do not store them in the refrigerator, where they will develop a hard core and an “off” taste. If stored properly, sweet potatoes will keep for a month or longer. At normal room temperature, they should be used within a week of purchase. You may brush off any excess dirt before storing, but do not wash them until you are ready to cook them. It is the moisture from washing that will increase their spoilage.

Wash sweet potatoes well. Cook them whole whenever possible as most of the nutrients are next to the skin, and skins are easier to remove after they have been cooked. Pierce skin with fork. Place potatoes in a pan and cook in an oven heated to 375 degrees F. for about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool potatoes slightly before removing skins.

Sweet potatoes can be cooked in a microwave oven to save time. Wash and pierce potatoes, then place them on a paper towel. The cooking time for 2 medium potatoes is on high for 5–9 minutes, and 4 potatoes, 10–13 minutes.

Yellow and dark orange sweet potatoes can be used interchangeably in recipes. Try not to mix the two types in a single dish, because their different textures and cooking times may affect the outcome of the recipe.

The yellow variety takes longer to cook than the orange and will be done at the upper range of cooking time.

Quick serving ideas

• Purée cooked sweet potatoes with bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon. Top with chopped walnuts.

• Steam cubed sweet potatoes, tofu and broccoli. Mix in raisins and serve hot or cold with a curried vinaigrette dressing.

• Desserts made with sweet potatoes are an autumn favorite but can be enjoyed year round. Try making sweet potato pie, bread, muffins or pudding.

• Baked sweet potatoes are delicious even when served cold and therefore make a great food to pack in to-go lunches.

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