Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Win-Win with Purple Sweet Potatoes

Recently, I was in a local fruit and vegetable market, informally known as Liz and Frank's, where I usually purchase ingredients for our family meals. Since, I cook most of the meals in our home, and try to make as much as I can from scratch, I’m always looking for new ingredients. I embrace the challenge of turning mundane weeknight meals into an adventure. As a health researcher I am always thinking of ways to increase health in not only my family’s life but also the state that I live in and love, Mississippi. 

As I was rummaging through the market bins, I stumbled across an oddly colored sweet potato. I didn’t have to think twice; I grabbed 4 or 5 and put them in my bag. My first thought was to roast them. I ran into a friend and fellow cook there, and we spoke about this new ingredient. He said he had used them in a sweet potato gratin and that they have a lot more starch than a regular sweet potato. He also suggested that I may have to cook it longer than an orange- colored sweet potato. 

My first attempt to was just to roast them and explore their flavor. Then I would base my next dish on the taste and texture. My first impression after roasting was that they are way less sweet than regular sweet potatoes. I would say more like a cross between yucca and an orange sweet potato. They paired really well with the garlic mayo I mixed up for a dipping sauce. So this is a healthy food that tastes really good—my kids wolfed them down. 

The next recipe I made was a bit more work than simple roasting. I searched the internet and found 3 recipes that I combined: Emeril’s stewed pork and purple sweet potato recipe, Rick Bayless’ pork tinge and another from Food and Wine mag. I love stews and find them perfect for a family of four, especially in the winter time. It was absolutely delicious, and again, my kids devoured it.

I hope that next Thanksgiving my wife will let me substitute typical orange sweet potatoes with these purple ones for her very sweet, traditional Southern sweet potato casserole.

I also researched the health benefits of the purple sweet potato. They contain anthocyanins, like blueberries and other blue/purple fruits. Anthocyanins are powerful anti-oxidants and have been associated with a healthy diet. Purple sweet potatoes are a starch healthier than most, and they retain the anthocyanins after the cooking process more than their blue and purple fruit cousins. This has led many health researchers to believe that they are a “super-food.” They’ve been included in all sorts of foods, from drinks, candy, and desserts in many  parts of Asia.

In my local area, there’s a need for economic opportunities and for more healthy foods. Vardaman, Mississippi, is known as the “Sweet Potato Capital,” and at this time of year, you can hardly drive through many parts of the state without seeing pickup trucks overflowing with sweet potatoes that farmers are selling on the roadside. Purple sweet potatoes could be a big benefit to both local farmers and the people in Mississippi, which suffers from the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the US. If my kids inhaled them before other tempting items on the table, then maybe people with diabetes or other children who need to eat healthier might find them a tasty, affordable food.