Delicious bright orange sweet potatoes are hard to ignore when filling up your plate at the Thanksgiving table. I bake them with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon on turkey day and they just soak up all the sugary spiced goodness. And they’re even better the next day like my other favorite sides stuffing and mac and cheese (yum!). In order to make sure these sweet spuds get their shine on this holiday season, it’s important to keep a few things in mind when buying sweet potatoes.
Organic sweet potato farmer for Laughing Child Farm, Tim Hughes-Muse shared with America’s Test Kitchen some tips for picking the right ones to make things like roasted sweet potatoes, casserole, or a pie! Plus, he offered insight into how long these root veggies can last when stored correctly.
How do you buy good sweet potatoes?
When you’re browsing the produce aisle, the first thing that you might see is a section offering yams and another with sweet potatoes. Hughes-Muse noted that the two aren’t actually that much different. “The ‘yams’ sold in most supermarkets in the United States are actually just larger sweet potatoes,” he said. “Actual yams are much larger and have rougher, bark-like skin with white flesh.” Essentially, you’re picking up the same starch whether it’s listed as a yam or sweet potato at most grocery stores, so either one will be fine to use in your recipes.
When picking out your sweet potato or yam, you want the skin to be dull yet smooth and firm. You can also tell its ripeness by giving it a smell, which he said should be naturally earthy. A sweet smell means they’re rotten and the bacteria in the sweet potato has converted to sugar.
If you’re roasting them whole, then buy sweet potatoes that are all around the same size so they cook at the same time. If you’re chopping or dicing them, the size of the sweet potatoes when you buy them won’t matter as much.
Hughes-Muse mentioned that the Beauregard variety of sweet potatoes are commonly carried around grocery stores in the US. These have an orange flesh and a sweeter flavor than white or yellow sweet potatoes. You might also come across Covington and Jewel sweet potatoes, which have a less stringy texture that works well when mashed or pureed.
See this explainer from Tech Insider to learn more about the various kinds of sweet potatoes and why they’re often called yams:
How far in advance can you buy sweet potatoes?
A lot of times when we’re planning a big meal, we usually pick up produce like herbs and berries a day or two beforehand. This way they won’t spoil in the fridge and we can enjoy them while they’re fresh. When it comes to buying sweet potatoes, you can breathe a sigh of relief because you won’t have to put off getting them at the last minute.
Hughes-Muse said that sweet potatoes can last up to two weeks if stored in a cool dry place or a plastic container in your pantry. Keep them away from any strong heat sources like the oven or near the dishwasher, which can warm up the sweet potatoes. Also, shy away from putting them in the fridge so that they won’t absorb any other flavors or smells.
The best part about buying your sweet potatoes in advance is that they’ll get a naturally sweeter taste over time. As you can tell, a little bit of planning when shopping for these in-season favorites really pays off when cooking your holiday meal!