The answer: the humble sweet potato. With a delectable, mild sweetness, a bevy of nutrients, and a wide variety of uses, the sweet potato definitely deserves a spot in your pantry alongside the flashier superfoods of the moment.
Consider this your formal introduction to cooking sweet potatoes. Whether you prefer them mashed, fried, or baked, here’s everything you need to know, including 10 recipes.
The many kinds of sweet potatoes
At one grocery store, the root vegetable labeled “sweet potato” might have a bright orange center. Somewhere else, it might be a pale yellow or cream shade. It’s not a mistake—just a consequence of the wide variety of different types of sweet potatoes.
When you’re navigating the selection at the store, keep this information in mind.
Sweet potatoes vs. yams
Let’s get one thing straight. Contrary to popular belief, sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing. The yam plant is related to lilies and palms and is native to Africa and Asia. Though yams are often the same size as potatoes, they can grow up to several feet long and are covered in a thick, fibrous skin that looks almost like bark. Then there’s the shape: Sweet potatoes have thin, tapered ends; yams are perfectly cylindrical. Odds are, you won’t find yams in the grocery store—anything labeled “yam” is probably just a sweet potato.
What you will find, though, are endless varieties of sweet potatoes with varying colors, textures, and flavors. Here the 16 most common types (Yep, we admit it—Beauregard does sound like the perfect name for a small dog.):
- Speckled purple: purple skin, flecked purple flesh, mild flavor, firm texture
- Korean purple: purple skin, white flesh, chestnut-like flavor
- Purple: reddish skin, purple flesh, light sweetness
- Stokes Purple: brown skin, dark purple flesh, earthy flavor, tough texture
- Envy: pale orange skin and flesh, mild sweetness
- Hannah: tan skin, pale yellow flesh, light sweetness, dry texture
- Jewel: copper skin, deep orange flesh, moist, tender texture
- Garnet: reddish skin, bright orange flesh, pumpkin-like sweetness, moist texture
- Beauregard: reddish skin, bright orange flesh, mild flavor, tender texture
- Creamsicle: cream skin, bright orange flesh, sugary sweetness
- O’Henry: light brown skin, cream-colored flesh, light sweetness, dense texture
- Okinawa: tan skin, magenta flesh, sugary sweetness
- Covington: reddish-brown skin, orange flesh, earthy sweetness
- Nugget: reddish-brown skin, light orange flesh, dense texture
- Amish bush porto rico: reddish-brown skin, orange flesh, buttery flavor
How to cook sweet potatoes
Since you can cook sweet potatoes just like regular potatoes, the possibilities are endless. Try them baked, fried, or mashed; in casseroles, stews, and hash. Thanks to their sweetness, sweet potatoes even make an appearance in some desserts.
Not sure where to start? Try these five basic cooking methods, and customize them to your own palate with herbs, spices, and other seasonings.
How to roast sweet potatoes
Roasting in the oven brings out the potatoes’ natural sweetness, caramelizing the sugars where they touch the baking sheet. Roasted sweet potatoes make an ideal side dish during the winter months and work surprisingly well as a topping for green salad.
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wash sweet potatoes well, then roughly chop into equal-sized pieces and toss with oil. Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake 30 to 40 minutes, until cooked through and barely caramelized.
How to cook sweet potatoes on the stovetop
Pan-fried potatoes are pretty much perfect. The insides become tender and mushy and the edges char where they stick to the pan. Add onions and bell peppers to this recipe to make a quick hash, or fry the potatoes in butter and fresh rosemary for a French-style preparation.
Wash sweet potatoes well, then roughly chop into equal-sized pieces. Heat oil in a skillet or other large pan over medium-high heat, then add chopped sweet potatoes. Cook 3 minutes, then stir potatoes, cover, and cook for 8 more minutes until tender.
How to bake sweet potatoes
It’s almost a crime to talk about potatoes without mentioning baked potatoes. This no-fuss preparation yields a tender, fluffy sweet potato that works just as well as an entrée as it does as a side dish. Try it sweet—with melted butter and a drizzle of maple syrup—or savory, with chopped scallions and grated cheese.
1 medium sweet potato
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash sweet potato well, then, using a fork, poke holes all over. Wrap in aluminum foil, then bake on a baking sheet until tender, about 40 minutes.
How to cook sweet potatoes in the microwave
When you’re hungry, like, right now, turn to the trusty microwave to bake a potato in less than 10 minutes. If you’re cooking more than one sweet potato at a time, you may need to add more time.
1 medium sweet potato
Wash sweet potato well, then, using a fork, poke holes all over. Wrap in a damp paper towel, then place on a microwave-safe plate and microwave on high, 5 to 8 minutes, or until flesh feels soft and tender.
How to make mashed sweet potatoes
What would a holiday meal be without mashed potatoes? Instead of plain white spuds, add some color to the table with sweet potatoes. To up the natural sweetness even more, drizzle in 1 tablespoon maple syrup; to keep them savory, try adding thyme, rosemary, or other herbs.
6 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup butter
Sea salt, to taste
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add sweet potatoes and cook until tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain, then mash potatoes with an electric mixer. Beat in butter and salt and serve warm.
Sweet potato recipes
Now that you’ve mastered the basics, you’re ready to take on some more sophisticated sweet potato dishes. Get started with these 10 tried-and-true recipes.
Savory waffles will blow your mind. Hey, we love maple syrup and chocolate chips as much as the next guy, but sometimes you just don’t want that much sugar first thing in the morning. That’s where these sweet potato hash brown waffles come in. Cayenne, paprika, and scallions add a nice kick to the “batter,” which gets deliciously crispy as it cooks in the waffle-maker. Top it off with a sunny-side-up egg, avocado, and cilantro for a brunch dish you’ll want for lunch and dinner, too.
The vibrant hue of sweet potato fries make them look even more appetizing than regular fries. Plus, they’re a smarter choice—sweet potatoes contain more fiber, vitamins, and minerals than their counterparts. Paleo eaters even consider sweet potatoes acceptable. Cumin, cayenne, and chili powder bring some heat, while a touch of coconut sugar helps highlight the potatoes’ natural sweetness. If you like foods with some heat, you’ll want to dip these in a chipotle-lime dipping sauce, but they also pair nicely with ketchup.
These stuffed sweet potatoes may seem indulgent, but they’re better for you than they may appear. The recipe is vegan and Paleo-friendly—with flavorful, nutrient-packed toppings like sautéed kale and creamy avocado (no dairy or bacon bits here). A drizzle of homemade tahini-turmeric dressing over the top is the finishing touch. Pro tip: Double (or triple) the recipe and assemble all the components ahead of time to make meal prep a cinch!
We’d be remiss not to include sweet potato chips on the list. Good news: this recipe is so healthy that you don’t have to worry about limiting yourself to just a few. Slicing the potatoes wafer thin is the key to getting that perfect crunch. Toss ’em in a little cumin, paprika, and salt, then slide them into the oven. It’s really that easy.
This casserole is simple to make, visually stunning, and so, so flavorful. It’s all thanks to a thick cream sauce infused with garlic, sage, and nutmeg. While traditional potatoes au gratin can feel too rich and heavy, this version tastes just indulgent enough.
The traditional Spanish recipe for tortilla española is extremely simple: it’s just an omelet made with caramelized onions and potatoes. Our rendition also keeps it pretty straightforward, but swaps in sweet potatoes for more flavor and color and adds a medley of fresh spices. Serve it alongside olives, cheese, and ham for a tapas-inspired meal, or eat it on its own for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Sweet potatoes work just as well as regular spuds in these pillowy-soft gnocchi, while imparting a gorgeous orange color—don’t worry, even novice pasta makers will have no trouble following along. We also opted for a blend of hazelnut flour and arrowroot flour (instead of the traditional wheat flour) to make the dish gluten-free. Finish it with sautéed chanterelle mushrooms and a fragrant butter-sage sauce.
Latkes may be a classic Hanukkah treat, but the crispy fried potato pancakes taste delightful year round. The combination of sweet potatoes, apples, and onions strikes a nice balance between sweet and savory—they’re as good topped with applesauce as they are with sour cream and scallions. Since this version is Paleo-friendly and gluten-free, everyone can get in on the holiday fun.
So how will you enjoy this versatile veggie? Let these recipes be your inspiration, and share in the comments!
Photo credit: Alicia Cho, Paul Delmont