Radical Roots: Sweetpotatoes

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Often referred to as the “Orange Superfood”, the sweetpotato is an integral part of the American diet. From casseroles to soups and everything in between, this go-to ingredient finds its way into many of our favorite dishes. With a mild sweet flavor, the sweetpotato is high in potassium, calcium, and Vitamin A, making it a highly nutritious option!

Not only do Americans love to eat sweetpotatoes; we also love to grow them! North Carolina is the number one sweetpotato producer in the United States, with over 400 growers producing 60% of the national supply. Our hot, moist climate and rich, fertile soil create the ideal conditions for sweetpotato production.

Sweetpotatoes are mainly grown in the coastal plain region of North Carolina, where they are planted in May or June for harvest in late August. They are grown from cuttings called sprouts or slips, which are planted in an area with well-drained loam, full sunlight, and regular moderate rainfall. After 90-120 days, the sweetpotatoes are ready to dig! They are then sorted by size, cured, and stored in cool, humid conditions.

Enjoy this radical root by “digging in” to these activities:

Growing Sweetpotatoes Indoors

Materials Needed

  • 1 organic sweetpotato
  • A jar filled with lukewarm water
  • Several sturdy toothpicks
  • Fertilizer

Step 1: Beginning 2-3 inches from the bottom of the sweetpotato, insert the toothpicks at regular intervals.

Image of roots and shoots

Figure 1 Roots and shoots will emerge in a few weeks (iStock/rudolfoelias).

Step 2: Insert the sweetpotato into the jar, so that the tip is submerged. In a couple of weeks, roots and shoots with leaves will begin to emerge, Figure 1.

Step 3: Place the sweetpotato in a sunny location.

Step 4: Twice weekly, empty the water in the jar and replace it with fresh, clean water.

Step 5: Once the shoots have grown full and lush, move the sweetpotato into a larger jar/vase. You can enjoy your sweetpotato by staking the vines or letting them hang from a high location. 

Image of plants in garden

Figure 2 Plant slips in the garden (iStock/piyaset).

Step 6: You may also consider cutting the shoots or slips and putting them into another jar of water. Once rooted, these slips can be planted in the garden when the weather is warm, Figure 2.

Step 7: Once a month, add liquid fertilizer according to directions on the package. This should be done right after changing the water

Sweetpotato Recipes

Sweetpotato Chili

Ingredients

2 tbsp. vegetable oil 2 cans diced tomatoes
1 ¼ lb. sweetpotatoes 1 can puréed tomatoes
1 medium onion 2 c. frozen shelled edamame
3 cloves garlic 1 can pinto beans
1 tbsp. ground cumin 1 can black beans
2 tsp. chili powder Shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream (optional)

Directions

In a glass baking dish, combine sweetpotatoes and 2 tbsp. water. Cover with vented plastic wrap and microwave on high for 12 minutes, or until tender. In a medium-sized pot, heat oil on medium. Add onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder, and ¼ tsp. salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes and 2 c. water. Heat to simmering. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add sweetpotatoes, edamame, pinto beans, black beans, and ¼ tsp. salt. Cook 2-5 minutes, or until beans are hot. Serve with cheddar cheese and sour cream, if desired, Figure 3.

Image of chili

Figure 3 Serve with or without toppings (iStock/fotogal).

Adapted from Good Housekeeping

Sweetpotato and Chorizo Pizza

Ingredients

2 large pizza bases 3 tbsp. olive oil
½ c. prepared pesto sauce 2 tbsp. rosemary leaves, chopped
1 large sweetpotato, peeled and thinly sliced Sea salt
2 medium potatoes, unpeeled and thinly sliced Small basil leaves
1 chorizo, skin removed and thinly sliced

Directions

Preheat oven to 400℉. Spread pizza bases with pesto sauce. In a medium-sized bowl, toss sweetpotato, potato, and chorizo with 1 tbsp olive oil. Lay this mixture on the pizzas. Scatter with rosemary leaves, and drizzle with the remaining olive oil. Bake for 20-22 minutes. Season with salt and garnish with basil leaves, Figure 4.

Image of pizza

Figure 4 Season, garnish, slice, and serve (iStock/OksanaKiian).

Adapted from Meredith Dairy

Oven-Baked Sweetpotato Fries

Ingredients

2 large sweetpotatoes, peeled, cut into wedges ½ tsp. black pepper
3 tbsp. vegetable oil ¼ tsp. paprika
½ tsp. sea salt ¼ tsp. garlic powder

Directions

Preheat oven to 425℉. Spray baking sheet with non-stick spray. In a large bowl, lightly toss sweetpotatoes in vegetable oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika. Arrange potatoes in a single layer on the baking sheet, being sure not to overcrowd. Bake 18-24 minutes, or until tender and golden brown, turning occasionally. Cool 5 minutes before serving, Figure 5.

Image of sweetpotato fries

Figure 5 Cool before serving (iStock/robynmac).

Adapted from Allrecipes

Extension Resources

Gleaned Sweetpotatoes: Storage, Recipes, and Quick Fact

Postharvest Handling of Sweetpotatoes