A Guide to the Types of Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are a gift that keeps on giving. Not only are they delicious as kettle chips, but there are several different types of sweet potatoes. Each species has a unique combo of taste, texture, and color. Some are firmer than others and the colors range from a stark white to a deep purple.
In this guide, we’ll briefly touch on some of the key differences between potatoes and sweet potatoes then dive into the different species of sweet potato. You’ll be surprised at the whole new world of tastes and flavors there is to experience with sweet potatoes.
Are Sweet Potatoes Yams?
It’s a common misunderstanding though: yams are related to potatoes, but sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. Plants that belong to this family are prone to beautiful and abundant flowering!
Sweet potato vines also differ from regular potato vines. The sweet potato has vines that grow quickly along the ground and the vines will also crawl along strings if a vertical garden is used. Generally, the leaves are a darker greenish purple, and the flowers look very similar to a pink morning glory.
On the other hand, regular potatoes don’t form lengthy vines and instead they tend to push upwards and continually grow additional tubers along their stem if taken care of. The leaves are also light green and are far less angular than sweet potato leaves.
Sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America as early as 8,000 B.C. as both a food source and decoration. Not only are sweet potatoes packed full of nutrients, but the juice from crushed sweet potatoes can also be used as a dye. That’s not all! Sweet potatoes are also used to make inks, glues, and rubber. They are truly superheroes!
Types of Sweet Potatoes
Below, we cover the differences between the many species of sweet potato. Varieties can differ greatly in taste, size, texture, and color.
Amish Bush Porto Rico
Amish Bush Porto Rico is a bush type of sweet potato that can be grown in a small amount of space. They are especially handy in the garden since they retain the typical ivy shape leaves and are particularly resistant to pests. They can grow well in a pot or in the ground and they will grow in easily manageable clusters.
Compared to other sweet potatoes, this variant tastes sweet and buttery when it is cooked. It can have a light pinkish color to its skin or it may be more on the copper end of the spectrum. What does remain consistent is the flesh: regardless of the skin color, Amish Bush Porto Rico consistently has red-orange flesh.
Unlike other species, the Apache is at the beginning of the color spectrum with its light tan and red skin and flesh. It tends to have a waxy texture on the outside of the tuber, and it must be scrubbed clean before eating. Unlike the buttery flavor of the Amish Bush Porto Rico, the Apache has a smooth, sweetened chestnut flavor.
The most striking fact regarding Apache sweet potatoes, is the many patterns they can have. The skin has patches of white and red skin and the flesh can have red speckles throughout; they are small powerhouses that pack a punch. If you are serving them and want to keep the distinct Apache Sweet Potato pattern, then blanch the potatoes before fully cooking them.
The Batata is a great all-around variety. It is grown mainly in the Caribbean: the species is frequently used as an addition to soups and stews. With a slightly sweet and starchy flavor, the Batata also works well boiled or mashed.
The most versatile and sweetest variation of sweet potatoes is the Beauregard. Throughout the United States, you will see this species stacked high in the grocery stores during the holiday season. Beauregard’s have a bit of a stringy texture, but they stay soft: this is what makes them so popular. These potatoes can be mashed, boiled, or pureed to add structure to cakes and pies.
Beauregard’s call Mississippi and Louisiana their home. They mature at 100 days, tend to stay uniform in size and shape, and they maintain their bright orange flesh through the cooking process.
Camote (pronounced kah-moh-teh) are a native species of sweet potato that grows in the tropical regions or Mexico as well as some parts of America. This species is theorized to have been a key part of the Mayan diet: it is now a prominent variety included in Mexican culinary culture.
Camote, which is the Spanish word for sweet potato, is often sold by street vendors in Mexico. You can find them fresh and plain or sweetened with sugar, cinnamon, and honey.
Centennials are the color of a shiny penny with equally stunning flesh, decadent moisture, and sweet flesh. With their moisture content, they can be used to add moisture to cakes and other pastries or breads. Since Centennials can be used in any type of dish, they are a favorite for home gardeners.
Compared to other species, Centennials have a more carrot-like shape, and they are also short-season growers. If you want to have delicious Centennials, then make sure you harvest them prior to the first frost: they don’t do that well in the cold.
If you really want to eat the rainbow, then you have to include Charleton sweet potatoes in your diet. While the skin is a drab brown, the skin hides beautiful almost neon purple flesh. The intense color is not followed by an intense flavor. In fact, many refer to the Charleton as a very balanced sweet potato.
Unlike the majority of sweet potatoes, the Charleton has a drier texture and is better used as a colorful addition to dishes. Rather than being the main star, the Charleton can add balanced flavor to many dishes and help reduce the intensity of other flavors. As with most sweet potatoes, the Charleton has a host of antioxidants that are important for your body.
Cilembu is the queen of poster child sweet potatoes. If you are looking for potatoes that naturally glaze when you cook them, then this is the species for you. Versatile and sweet, the Cilembu is named after a small village in Indonesia where the species was first recognized.
Cilembu’s vary in size from one to four pounds. In order to get these gigantic sweet potatoes to grow, they have to be at least 1000 meters above sea level with the perfect amount of rain. The only word of warning with the Cilembu is don’t boil or steam them: they will easily lose their hint of sweetness.
Convingtons find their home in North Carolina where they make up almost 85% of the sweet potatoes produced in the area. This species is a favorite among southerners because of its moist and creamy texture. They are easy to peel and roast in an oven if you have the patience to wait for a bite of malty sweet sweet potato.
This species boasts bright orange flesh even when cooked. They are easily definable by their rose colored skin with tiny spots. Tapered ends, and a slight curve make the potatoes look a little like the moon. You can eat them with any combination of savory herbs and spices, or you can serve them plain. Some may also enjoy this species as a raw, bright addition to any salad.
There’s not much on the Creamsicle other than praise for its startling combination of creamy skin, and vibrant orange flesh. Since it is a firmer species, these do well with frying or boiling.
The Crown Jewel is the color of true royalty: deep, vibrant purple. The entire potato can be used, however the interior is often waxy and dense. Once cooked, the waxiness breaks down. The most usable part of this potato is the outer later (usually pale purple or white): it is softer, smoother, and more flavorful.
Like many purple varieties, the Crown Jewel has tons of antioxidants and nutrients. Because of their texture and taste, Crown Jewel does well when it is fried. The sweet and crunchy snack that results from frying or air frying is something you won’t ever forget.
Envy is a short, sweet, and to the point species. They are an heirloom species which inherently makes them hardier than other species. These types of potatoes can be used for baking, roasting and casseroles. Envy is not as sweet as other species, but their moisture and flavor make them great additions to stews and roasts.
Thank you Louisiana for this substantial, nutritious, and sweet potato. Unlike others in the sweet potato family, the Evangeline contains more sucrose than other potatoes: most potatoes are full of maltose which is a starchier sugar. A super sweet flavor can’t hide the fact that the Evangeline contains 40% more Vitamin A then other varieties!
Since they are resistant to the most common disease, Evangelines are a friend to many gardeners. In storage, their red skin will fade to more of a rosy color, however the flesh will maintain its vibrant orange color.
Georgia Jet are another early season potato with a very high yield. They have prominent red skin with sweet and tender orange flesh. Unlike many sweet potatoes that enjoy heat, the Georgia Jet prefers cooler weather. Jets are hardly grown in warmer areas, but they can be found further south.
Talk about a red potato! The Ginseng Red almost has ruby skin. The leaves of this semi-bush variety are like a hand with fingers stretched out which is the typical ivy shape. Sweet golden flesh and high nutrient levels make this variant a favorite.
If you plan on growing Ginseng Red, keep in mind that they need warm weather. Wait to harvest the tubers in their prime during spring and summer.
The Hannah is a very creamy and historical sweet potato. Before the orange flesh of sweet potatoes became a sought-after characteristic, white sweet potatoes like the Hannah were the first variations to be farmed. They look very similar to a regular potato and have a similar texture.
With how firm Hannahs are, they are perfect for roasting as chunks, mashing, or turning into fries. As they bake, the flesh gains a more golden coloration. Their shape is also unique: instead of the large oval of most sweet potatoes, they are more oblong with rounded ends.
Haymans are fascinating sweet potatoes since they have greenish-yellow flesh and milky white skin. Unlike White Hayman sweet potatoes, Haymans are sweeter and far moister. They come from Barbados and became popular along the east coast region.
Farmers often avoid the Hayman due to its low yield and ugly, gnarled shape. Even though it is a pain to grow, this sweet potato has a delicious honey-like sweetness that you will fall in love with after the first bite.
Yet another gift from Louisiana! Thanks to Louisiana State University, the Hernandez variety is a sweet potato with light red skin, and the characteristic moist orange flesh. Unlike many hand-selected species, the Hernandez has large root systems. As with most sweet potatoes, Hernandez sweet potatoes do well baked, roasted, in soups, or fried.
Japanese White Satsuma-Imo
There are several types of Japanese White Sweet Potatoes. The Satsuma-Imo is an impressive potato with vibrant purple skin and a yellowish flesh that darkens as it is cooked. They are perfect when baked, roasted or steamed because of how the Satsuma-Imo retains sweetness and a delicious chestnut flavor.
Satsuma-Imo sweet potatoes are primarily grown in the Satsuma area of Japan and they are a local favorite. Their starchy and dense flesh make this species perfect for any type of cooking, especially boiling since they won’t get waterlogged like other species of sweet potato. Satsuma-Imo is a long slender tuber and they tend to grow to a medium size.
Jersey sweet potatoes are another white flesh variety with golden-yellow skin. Because they are a drier sweet potato, they will work well in dishes that have sauces or soups and stews.
The Jewel is very similar to it’s fellow, Beauregard. What separates the two is the more robust flavor of the Jewel and the lack of intense sweetness. Jewels are also very close to Garnets with the only difference being a slightly redder skin for the Garnet.
The Jewel is a solid all-purpose sweet potato with less of the sweetness. They can become waterlogged when boiling, however they still fare better than other types of sweet potatoes in water. Overall, their major difference is taste and Jewels tend to be slightly firmer than Beauregards.
Korean Purple Sweet potatoes are another heirloom variety. These purple skinned potatoes can always be found during the fall in Korea as they are a popular fall and winter snack. Generally, they are wrapped in foil and tossed into a fire until they are cooked through. The flavor of the yellowish meat is like a sweet chestnut.
If you want to add the Korean Purple to a dish, it is best to fry or sauté them in order to keep the purple color of the skin. Speaking of the skin, Korean Purple sweet potatoes contain anthocyanins which is the same antioxidant that is in blue berries!
The Kotobuki is the first in this list to have more of a reddish flesh than other sweet potatoes. They are not often used outside of stir-fry, tempura, or other cooking processes that add fats to the potato.
As the third most popular vegetable in New Zealand, the Kumara boasts a vast history. Originally, the species was brought to the pacific islands by the Maori people. Like how Camote means ‘sweet potato’ in Spanish, Kumara is the Maori word for sweet potato.
There are a few variations of the Kumara: red, gold, and orange. They have different sweetness levels with the orange Kumara being the sweetest. Each variation is used frequently as mashed potatoes, barbecued potatoes, and salad toppings. They also go great with fruits like pineapple and apricots!
Murasaki (Japanese Sweet Potatoes)
Murasaki are medium to large and very oblong in shape. They have a purple-red skin with crisp white flesh. Unlike many potatoes, Murasakis have a more floral taste than others. When cooked low and slow, Murasaki gain a silken texture which is a wonderful addition to sauces or as a thickening and moisture adding agent for baking. Even though the name suggests foreign origins, the Murasaki originates at LSU and it is primarily grown in California.
Nancy Hall sweet potatoes are often considered to be ugly sweet potatoes. Even though their flavor is sweet, the texture is moist, and cooking needs are varied, Nancy Hall potatoes are often an ignored variant. An interesting tidbit about the Nancy Hall is that the potatoes are often stored in hothouses which allows them to develop a more firm, moist, and sweet flesh.
North Carolina sweet potato are from the state itself and they are known for their high quality. The flesh is a bright orange and the skin is a lovely russet. They maintain the status quo with their flavor and grow to healthy medium-large sizes.
Like the Cilembu, Nugget is a prime potato for roasting and glazing. They are distinctly dense and hold their shape well. To identify them, the Nugget sweet potatoes are rosy-skinned with orange flesh.
O’Henry Sweet Potato is a hybrid species that has a slightly sweet taste, with firm and dense flesh. When cooked properly, the O’Henry takes on a creamy texture which makes it yet another great all-around tuber. While other white flesh sweet potatoes have a hard time with disease, this reddish skinned sweet potato is far more resistant than it’s fellow white sweet potatoes.
Okinawa (Hawaiian Sweet Potatoes)
Okinawa sweet potatoes are nothing surprising to look at … externally. Once you cut open an Okinawa sweet potato, your life will never be the same. The inside of the potato is an extremely intense color of purple: this deep purple makes it one of the darkest, most dense, and nutrient heavy sweet potatoes available.
Their texture is grainier when uncooked. However, once they are cooked, they are soft and sweet enough to be included in many different main dishes and desserts. Perhaps the most impressive feature is that Okinawa sweet potatoes don’t lose their color when they are baked!
The Red Garnet is truly a gem to look at. With dark reddish orange skin and bright orange flesh to contrast, these sweet potatoes are the perfect potato for baking. Since Red Garnets are moister than Jewels and Beauregards, they can be used as a substitute in many recipes. The flavor of a Red Garnet is often compared to squash rather than a sweet potato; this makes them the perfect addition to any soup, stew, or any casserole.
Regal sweet potatoes are another species with dark purple-red skin and orange flesh. They are a high-quality potato with a large yield. Generally, Regal sweet potatoes will do best when used for baking.
Southern Delight sweet potatoes are very direct: they have dark orange flesh and dark copper skin. They have a mild flavor and store much like regular sweet potatoes.
If you are looking for a flashy variety of sweet potato, then the Speckled Purple sweet potato is what you want. Light flecks mark magenta flesh and they are a firmer species that work best when fried.
Stokes Purple is a deep purple sweet potato. The skin is a light purple and contrasts the flesh beautifully. They are slightly sweet and more floral like the Murasaki. Stokes Purple is not a very moist sweet potato which makes it better for low cooking temperatures and long cook times. They are very fibrous but also contain anthocyanins that are similar to strawberries and cherries.
Sumor, or ‘summer’, sweet potatoes have more vitamin C than other sweet potatoes. They are energetic growers and love the heat. With high production rates, beautiful light tan skin and yellow flesh, the Sumor is a less sweet potato that grows well and tastes delicious.
Unlike other varieties that can be easily identified, Tahitian sweet potatoes come in a vast array of colors, shapes, and sizes. Each color and shape depend on how the farmer took care of the potatoes. They are generally bulbous and have thin purple skin with white flesh. When baked, Tahitian sweet potatoes take on a creamy texture and they can also caramelize well thanks their sugar content.
Another bush garden variety, the Vardaman is a great sweet potato to grow if there is limited taste. Historically, they have been around since the 1980’s when they were used as ornamentals and food. Vardaman’s have jumbo roots and golden skin that hides a deep orange-red flesh.
West African sweet potatoes are one of the most relied on staple foods in Africa. Both the flesh and skin are cream colored, but the flesh can be very sticky and starchy. As it cooks, the West African sweet potato gets a fluffy texture with a nutty flavor.
The West African sweet potato is an all day, any day food that goes well in soups and stews. Citizens of Africa often boil the potato since its structure can withstand the water. An added bonus? The leaves of the West African sweet potato can be used to ease asthma and upset stomach symptoms!
Willowleaf sweet potatoes are very hard to come by. They are an heirloom variety with reddish skin and orange, nutty flesh.
Just like the West African Sweet Potato, the Yamaimo is another sticky sweet potato. They can be used to make soba noodles and are often added to salads as a sweet side.
At the beginning of this adventure, did you think that you would find out so much about the different kinds of sweet potatoes?
Bet you didn’t!
Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile and extremely good for you. They have more than the daily recommended dose of Vitamin A, many varieties have additional antioxidants, and they just taste too good. From moist to dry, firm to dense, and purple to white, sweet potatoes will keep you on your toes with their variety. Check out your local health foods store to see if they have some of the varieties listed here!