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NC's top vegetable is sweet menu choice

102617Food5

Ellen Owens at the Pasquotank County Extension Center moves some prepared sweet potato fries to a baking sheet and into the oven on Thursday.

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Ellen Owens
Pasquotank Cooperative Extension

Sunday, October 29, 2017

It’s harvest time for North Carolina’s state vegetable--sweet potatoes.

North Carolina is the number one producer of sweet potatoes in the United States and has been since 1971. In fact, the state harvested over 95,000 acres of sweet potatoes in 2016, approximately 30,000 more acres than California, Louisiana and Mississippi combined. The State of North Carolina actually named the sweet potato its state vegetable in 1995.

It’s very important to note that sweet potatoes are among the top 10 most nutritious vegetables. The edible tuberous roots are rich in several vitamins and have other healthy properties as well. Sweet potatoes contain over four times the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A, which plays a vital role in vision, bone development and immune function. They are also a good source of Vitamin C, which helps fight infection and heals wounds. Sweet potatoes are a good source of Manganese, which helps maintain blood sugar levels and optimal thyroid function. Sweet potatoes are also high in fiber, which can help you stay full longer and can help lower cholesterol. They are a complex carbohydrate, which means they are not digested as quickly as simple carbohydrates, so there’s no spike in blood sugar to worry about. Sweet potatoes are high in antioxidants and low in calories. A medium sweet potato contains about 103 calories when baked in the skin, making it a great food for weight management.

Sweet potatoes grown in our area are available for purchase through several local growers. Never store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator, this will produce a hard center and an unpleasant taste. They can be stored for the winter in temperatures between 55-60 and humidity between 80 and 85 percent to keep roots from shriveling.

There’s even better news—sweet potatoes are very tasty. They are a very versatile vegetable and can be prepared in a variety of ways as an ingredient or as a stand-alone side dish. Sweet potatoes can be grilled, baked, steamed, roasted or puréed. Since we are at the peak of the sweet potato season, now is a good time to cook up a few new sweet potato recipes for your family. Kids and adults will love delicious Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries. Sweet Potato and Black Bean Stew is another tasty one pot dish that the whole family will enjoy. For these and other sweet potato recipes, visit https://whatscooking.fns.usda.gov/search/recipes and type sweet potato in the search window. Enjoy the pure deliciousness of North Carolina sweet potatoes.

Ellen Owens is director and family and consumer sciences agent for Pasquotank County’s Cooperative Extension Center.

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