Gardener’s Guide to Great Sweet Potatoes

sweet potatoes

It might seem a bit strange that someone living in the Montana Rocky Mountains would write about having fantastic sweet potatoes right out of your garden, but truth is that like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes can be grown in the far north, too. The keys to really great sweet potatoes begin after they are harvested, though. Because of this, we’ll concentrate on that part here and leave the steps for growing them for a later article.

First off, it is important to understand that particularly in the northern US, people often use the words “yams” and “sweet potatoes” as if they were the same thing. They aren’t. In fact, yams and sweet potatoes are totally different plants that originated in different parts of the world and about the only thing they have in common is that they both have edible tubers or roots. We are specifically talking about sweet potatoes here, not yams.

When Sweet Potatoes are Harvested

People who have never grown sweet potatoes are often surprised to find out how little flavor they have right after they’ve been dug up. In fact, freshly harvested sweet potatoes are nearly flavorless. It takes time and the right steps for the wonderful flavor of sweet potatoes to properly develop. Don’t be disappointed if you harvest and immediately have sweet potatoes, but find that they are blah.

Be Gentle With Sweet Potatoes

One of the biggest mistakes that first time sweet potatoes growers make is to handle them as they would regular spuds. Potatoes can be tossed around without a lot of concern. If sweet potatoes are tossed around, they get bruised. Like spuds, the tubers are alive, but they are more sensitive to shock. Bruises lead to cell necrosis. That is, the bruise can rapidly rot. This can happen with regular spuds, too, if they are handled to harshly, but it is especially true of sweet potatoes. The best idea is for the gardener to place them in the sack or bucket rather than tossing them in.

Allow the Sweet Potato Flavors to Mature

As previously mentioned, freshly harvested sweet potatoes have almost no flavor. For the best flavor to develop, they should be allowed to ripen after harvest. This is called aging or curing and to do this, the sweet potatoes should be kept at about 80-90 degrees F for around a week. During aging, the flavor develops, as some of the starch turns to sugar. This is the ‘sweet’ of sweet potatoes. Just as importantly, the skin thickens and becomes tougher during curing. In fact, it becomes tough enough to prevent interior moisture from easily escaping. This means that cured sweet potatoes will literally last for months at room temperature. As a secondary consequence, though, sweet potatoes should never be stored in plastic sacks, tightly sealable plastic bins or anywhere else where the sweet potatoes can’t breath. This is true of regular potatoes, too. In a plastic bag that doesn’t have airflow, potatoes and sweet potatoes will usually rot in a short amount of time.

Keep Sweet Potatoes Warm

Sweet potatoes are warmth-loving plants. This is why they grow so well in the tropics and semi-tropics. Because of this, sweet potatoes should never be stored in a cool or cold place, like a refrigerator. If they get too cold, the tubers die. Since refrigerators are usually set to keep food at 40 F, storing them in the refrigerator for even a few days can kill them. They are still edible if this happens, but a lot of the wonderful flavor is lost. Unfortunately, when sweet potatoes are shipped to stores, they are normally kept cold, much as lettuce and cabbage are. When they arrive at stores, they are then put into coolers or chilled produce stock rooms. This is the reason that sweet potatoes bought in a store tend to be tough and without much flavor. If you want your freshly harvested and cured sweet potatoes to taste great, store them at room temperature, preferably in a dry, dark place.

By doing all of this, your sweet potatoes should have a totally marvelous flavor and they should last for a long time. If any of these things is lacking, you probably aren’t getting the most flavorful sweet potatoes that you could have. Of course, the choice is yours, but personally I’ll opt for the best flavor, every time. The great news is that you don’t have to live in the deep south in order to have great tasting sweet potatoes, right out of your garden.




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Posted in food and plants and tagged , , , , , , , by with 4 comments.


  • Don’t put sweet potatoes in the fridge. OK! Good storage tip.

  • Andria Perry says:

    I keep them in a half cardboard box in the pantry with potatoes and onions. I hate that they run my blood sugar up so I cant have them anymore.

    • rextrulove says:

      I doubt that I’ve said anything here that you didn’t already know, @andriaperry, considering the history of your hubby. 🙂

      Maybe you can have them once in a while if you can get your blood sugar low enough and keep it that way. Our pastor was diagnosed with diabetes in 1998 after nearly going into diabetic shock. He was told to take insulin, but refused. Instead, he started really watching what he ate. A little more than a week ago, he had a checkup and his doctor told him that his blood pressure is down, his blood sugar is really good and even his cholesterol is down.

      The doctor told him, “You are doing so good that it would be perfectly okay for you to have a snicker’s bar once in a while.”

      Pastor Jim was rather elated about that. lol

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