Ode To My Pantry: Sweet Potatoes

Learning to feed yourself can be one of the most terrifying things. Am I about to give myself food poisoning? If I eat this too often will I end up with scurvy? How can I get the most nutritional bang for my buck? Why does this still taste like ass?

With Ode to My Pantry, learn to navigate a grocery store without having a meltdown in aisle three. Give a man a fish and feed him for a day, teach a queer to cook and stave off malnutrition for another semester.


Kristen has generously traded columns for the week so that I can talk about my obsession. Some people obssess over movies, significant others, or their cat. My obsession is sweet potatoes. I feel like I may or may not be single-handedly keeping the sweet potato farmers in business year round. I have six or seven sweet potatoes in my pantry at any given time (I just checked and I only have five, but I’m grocery shopping tomorrow so don’t worry).

Sweet potatoes are not white potatoes and they aren’t yams. I don’t care what your family has been calling that Thanksgiving dish with marshmallows for years: they are not yams. They are actually closely related to the Morning Glory family. In grocery stores, sometimes they are labelled as yams purely because Americans have been calling them yams for so long, but they legally have to be labelled as “Yams/Sweet Potatoes.” The FDA is a weird, weird organization. Sweet potatoes are harvested in the fall months, but they store well enough for us to have throughout the year.

Sweet potatoes are super packed with Vitamin A and beta-carotene (an antioxidant which your body converts into Vitamin A).

When you’re in the grocery store, you may find yourself standing in front of the sweet potatoes, thinking they look too ugly to eat. There are nearly 7,000 types of sweet potatoes, but the most common types of sweet potatoes you’ll find in a United States grocery store are: Beauregard, with a reddish-orange skin and bright orange flesh; Jewel, with copper skin and orange flesh; and Red Garnet, which has dark red skin and dark orange flesh.

I almost always buy Red Garnet because they make the best mashed sweet potatoes and they have the highest beta-carotene content, but Beauregard are considered the staple of the sweet potato world. Jewel are specifically from North Carolina, the United States’ sweet potato paradise.

Other varieties of sweet potatoes worldwide include Japanese White, which has a chestnut flavor and velvety texture; Okinawa, which is purple; Ureniki, or Maori potato, which is another purple potato; and Boniato, which has a cream flesh and is popular in the Caribbean.

In good news, sweet potatoes are #12 in the top 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticide and you don’t necessarily need to buy them organic.

Okay, back to the grocery store. You’re standing there. What the fuck do you actually look for? Pick out firm, medium sized sweet potatoes with smooth, blemish-free skin. The larger tubers tend to be starchier. When you get them home, store them in a cool, dry place (the pantry) as opposed to the refrigerator.

Now let’s talk about preparation. Sweet potatoes get sweeter as you cook them, so it’s best to slow-bake them if you want something them to be super sweet.

Boiled: Boil them in the skin to keep nutrients locked in.

Mashed: Prepare them just as you would regular mashed potatoes (baked or boiled), with butter and milk. Savory? Add salt and pepper. Sweet? Brown sugar. Awesome? Ginger!

Baked: I do this probably 4/7 mornings a week as a hash brown substitution. You can bake them whole in the skin just like a baked white potato, but you know what’s better? Dice, toss in olive oil and spices (I recommend chili seasoning or rosemary), then lay on a baking sheet and bake at 350º for ~45 minutes or until tender, flipping once. You can also make sweet potato fries by slicing them and sprinkling them with olive oil, then baking them at 450º for 20-25 minutes or until tender.

Fried: Shred or cube, then press the water out of them before tossing in a skillet.

Sweet potatoes are a wonderful substitute food. If you put white potatoes in it, you can probably get away with subbing sweet potatoes for at least half of the portion if not all. Try sweet potato cookies, muffins, gnocchi–the list goes on and on.

So buying and cooking sweet potatoes doesn’t sound like your thing? Lucky for you, there are also bazillions of things that have taken on sweet potato status in the past few years. You can buy sweet potato chips, fries, or tortilla chips (I want to personally recommend the latter about 29875 times) at almost every basic grocery store.

Here’s my new favorite thing in the world: sweet potato pancakes. Think more pancake than latke.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Ginger Butter

Adapted from a Food Network recipe

Yield: 4-6 servings

2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch nutmeg
2 cups milk
4 tsp melted butter, plus more for greasing skillet
2 eggs
1 large sweet potato, cooked until tender, peeled and pureed
Ginger butter, recipe follows

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Cook in buttered skillet on medium-high until bubbles form on the surface, then flip and cook until dark golden brown. Serve with ginger butter and maple syrup.

Ginger Butter
Adapted from a Food.com recipe

4 Tbsp butter, room temperature
pinch salt
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 (1 1/2 inch) piece fresh ginger, finely minced

Cream all of the ingredients together with a fork. Store in fridge or freezer until needed.

Any other sweet potato recipes/preparation techniques I should know about?

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Hansen is the former DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She teaches creative writing at Colorado State University and is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in her free time.

Hansen has written 189 articles for us.


  1. Sweet potatoes are the best! I feel guilty buying them because I haven’t found anyone around here (western France) who grows them so they are always imported from the US or Israel…. BUT THEY ARE SO GOOD!

    My recent favorite is sweet potato and bean burritos. MMMmmmm

  2. My house buys giant sacks of sweet potatoes for several reasons. They are cheap and filling, they are easy for even non-cookers to microwave (important for my roommate), they have a low glycemic load (also important for my roommate, who has the beetus), and the dog likes them and the vet says they are a good treat for the dog. Also, they are a good vehicle for medicine dispensing for the dog, because the dog does not know how to chew it. She’s all “my teeth aren’t made for this nom nom nom scarp scarp scarp.”

  3. that recipe looks great! I have a super delicious soup recipe I’ll send you. It’s sweet potatoes, butternut squash, ginger, brown sugar, balsamic (basically amazing).

  4. I just boil them in a put with some onions, maybe some carrots and if I’m feeling adventurous, then red/orange lentils. Season with ginger, lemon juice and honey. It’s easy enough for a lazy student and one pot lasts me most of a school week.

  5. The way you bake them sounds so good! I usually just toss them in the microwave. I’ve got to try that since sweet potatoes are my favorite go-to cheap food.

  6. I have literally added sweet potatoes to just about every recipe I make in the kitchen. To name just a few:

    sweet potato burgers with avocado spread
    sweet potato scones with crystallized ginger
    sweet potato and spicy red lentil bisque
    sweet potato and black bean enchiladas

    oh my god I could go on for days…

    • BURGERS! How could I forget to include sweet potato burgers in this post?! They are deeeeelicioussss.

  7. I have been going through a sweet potato phase for about 6 months now, so I’m beginning to think it’s not a phase anymore. Brokeass Gourmet has some great recipes that I love:
    and my favorite favorite favorite, http://brokeassgourmet.com/articles/twice-baked-sweet-potatoes-with-kale-and-cheddar

  8. Whenever I go out I wonder why I don’t see sweet potato poutine on the menu. I mean, IT JUST MAKES SENSE.

  9. But serious question Hansen, when you say “one large sweet potato,” HOW LARGE. Because the ones I get from the co-op are like, over a pound each, I swear. They are as big or bigger than my forearm.

    • I’d say anything larger than 2 1/2″ diameter and 6″ long is a LARGE sweet potato, so yours could be technically labelled “ginormous” or “gargantuan”.

  10. Urenika (with an “a”) are more of a potato-ey potato that just happen to be purple. Kumara is the maori sweet-potato-ey sweet potato. It can also be purple on the outside. Potato-ey is the scientific term. Also, if you write potato too many times it begins to look like nonsense. Sweet potato-ey nonsense.

  11. I had just emailed this veggie burger recipe to a friend after an Instagram request for it last night when I popped over to Autostraddle and there’s more sweet potato love!

    Here’s the veggie burgs I made last night.

    3 small sweet potatoes – dry roasted with skin on

    1 cup cooked quinoa

    3/4 – 1 cup besan

    1/2 brown onion diced

    3 large spring onion stalks thinly sliced

    1/2 bunch coriander, chopped

    1/3 – 1/2 cup water

    1/2 red capsicum diced large

    2 cloves garlic minced

    1 large red chilli, finely sliced

    1 banana chilli, finely sliced

    1 heaped tsp cumin

    1 tsp smoked paprika

    1/4 cup sesame seeds

    1/3 cup peanuts finely chopped

    1. In a small amount of oil gently cook off brown onion and 2/3 of spring onions, garlic, cumin, capsicum, chillies and paprika until onions are soft.

    2. In a large bowl combine besan and water to make a batter, rest for 15 minutes.

    3. Mix all ingredients in to batter, check consistency. Make more batter if you need to and mix in. Mixture should be a little bit sloppy, but not runny. You should be able to make a sloppy patty in your hands.

    4. Shallow fry, on a low-med heat in coconut oil in a non-stick pan until cooked through, should be fairly firm.

  12. Love the simple and easy boiled, mashed, baked and fried sweet potato instructions. Awesomeness!

    Just one thing – I know the point of this post is learning to feed yourself. But I’m gonna confess that I regularly mess up recipes that involve making something like ginger butter from scratch (unless I am concentrating real hard). And my regular pancakes NEVER turn out even half as good as the pancakes other people make or that I get in restaurants. So I’m fairly certain that my sweet potato pancakes would look and taste far from the delicious-looking ones in the picture.

    Therefore, my burning question is does anyone know where I can get sweet potato pancakes? Is it a common thing on brunch menus at any restaurant you know? If so, lemme know and (if it’s in a big city) next time I travel I’ll try to hit up that restaurant.


  13. You are speaking my language: My sweet, sweet, sweet-potato language. I love these things possibly more than any other food. Baked or roasted (either with hot sauce), mashed with tahini, boiled and coated in yogurt and curry—I could eat ’em every darned day. (And, um, actually I kind of do.)

  14. My favorite thing to do is bake them in the oven – 350 for an hourish, with chili powder/olive oil/lemon juice/salt/honey/cayenne (if you are feeling adventurous). Sometimes I make a ton on the weekend with some red bell peppers and onions too, and then make and freeze a whole bunch of burritos with them plus black beans/rice/cheese/cilantro. SO GOOD and easy to grab for work!

  15. Mmmm sweet potatoes! I would highly suggest sweet potato pizza. Made some last night and it was delicious, of course.

  16. This is what you do with sweet potatoes – you dice them up and bake them with coconut milk and cinnamon. Maybe sprinkle some shredded coconut on top. It’s amazing.

    Going to have to make some of those pancakes though…

  17. I love sweet potatoes, they’re awesome in Spanish omlette and amazing baked – I eat the skin with lumps of cheese after eating the soft middle with lots of butter. Possibly not as healthy that way, but very tasty.

  18. Here in Mexico sweet potatoes are very well known, you can even buy them in the streets [as you could buy hot dogs in some places in the U.S] it’s funny they have a distinctive sound so you know they’re near haha.

    It’s mostly prepared as a dessert with sugar and vanilla, sometimes with some liquor to. why not? haha

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