Sweet potato fries may have started to gain popularity a few years ago, but sweet potatoes have been a staple in many people’s diets for decades. You can get types of sweet potatoes that range from orange to cream-colored to purple and red, and they have a history stretching back over 5,000 years. They’re now grown throughout the world, and there are over 7,000 varieties.
Most people grow sweet potatoes as a food source, and you can find varieties to fit a range of different growing conditions and areas. They all have different temperature and light requirements, and many have various tastes. There are also sweet potatoes available that get grown for the pretty vines. The ornamentals may not kill you if you eat them, but they don’t have the most pleasant taste.
Unlike most plants you have in your garden, you don’t start sweet potatoes from seeds. Instead, you start sprouts called slips from last year’s roots that you wintered. You cut these slips off the sweet potato vine and put them in water to allow the roots to grow. Once enough roots grow, you bury the root end into the soil until you reach the first set of leaves. Then, you wait between three and four months for the sweet potatoes to sprout and grow.
Marketing campaigns in the mid 1900s made many people confused sweet potatoes for yams. These campaigns tried to market the orange colored sweet potato while separating it from the yellow or white varieties. Also, sweet potatoes are from a totally different family than the traditional potato. Sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family while potatoes come from the nightshade family with tomatoes. This is why there are huge nutritional differences between the two, and the sweet potato comes out ahead when it comes to nutrition.
Did you know that there are dozens of sweet potatoes available and they come in a huge range of colors? Some are much sweeter than others too due to the higher sugar content. Sweet Potatoes by Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0
Orange Sweet Potatoes
The various types of sweet potatoes with orange colored flesh are the most common kind you can purchase. Garnet, Covington, Beauregard, and Jewel are the most common types on the market today, so many people think that there are only a few types. However, these varieties are more popular due to the fact that they grow in large amounts on commercial farming operations. For any gardener who wants to grow types of sweet potatoes in the far northern portion of the United States or in poor soil or in containers, this is the one that is going to suit your needs the best.
The main varieties below do very well in warm or virtually tropical conditions in North Carolina and Louisiana, there are varieties that were bred to survive the shorter days and colder weather of the north.
These garnet to red-skinned types of sweet potatoes open to show off a deep orange coloring on the inside. This type of sweet potato is also resistant to soft rot to make it more hardy, and it’s also resistant to soil rot, Fusarium root wilt and rot, and root-knot nematodes. Generally speaking, this sweet potato is ready to harvest between 90 and 110 days after you plant them. They’re firm but sweet, and this makes them an excellent sweet potato to bake.
This fast-growing type of sweet potato is very popular among farmers. It offers copper skin with a darker orange flesh coloring, and it’s a fast-growing plant that offers bigger sweet potatoes that resist cracking. It needs roughly 110 days to mature, and it’s resistant to streptomyces soil rot and white grub. You should be careful with this plant and put it in beds that are free of root-knot nematodes because it’s not resistant to them.
You’ll get orange flesh with a copper skin coloring on this type of sweet potato. It’s a nice choice for less than ideal soil because the plant will keep the shape across different soil conditions. It does very well in sandy soil while keeping the nutrient content. This option doesn’t taste good right after you pick it. You have to pick it and store it for a while to allow the taste to develop. So, you can make your favorite Thanksgiving dishes using this type.
This red-skinned type of sweet potato has a bright orange flesh. It’s a favorite among gardeners who have sandy soil, and it does very well in Louisiana. This sweet potato offers a decently good yield, but it can produce less than other varieties on the list. It takes between 90 and 100 days to mature, and you’ll get a sweet flavor with a very creamy texture.
If you’re after a medium-sized type of sweet potato, this one could fit the bill. This is a newer type that comes from North Carolina, and it’s one of the most popular types growing in Louisiana and North Carolina. You get longer uniform potatoes with a bright orange coloring, and it does well with shorter seasons in much cooler climates. It resists nematodes, soil rot, and fusarium wilt. It’s very similar to the Beuregard sweet potato but it has a slightly darker skin. It’s great for mashing and roasting, and you can harvest it after 110 to 120 days.
Garnet types of sweet potatoes are arguably one of the most popular varieties in the United States. They account for roughly 90% of all sweet potatoes grown in the US, right alongside Beauregard and Jewel. They’re mostly grown in California, and it’s a medium-sized potato that offers a red skin. It’s commonly mistaken for a yam, and it grows in roughly 110 days. When you bake it, this sweet potato will hold its shape very well. It’s popular to create sweet potato fries using this variety.
Popular to grow throughout North Carolina, this type of sweet potato is a delicious and dependable crop. It has a copper skin with a deep orange flesh, and this is most likely what you imagine when you think of sweet potatoes. You can grow them in zones 4 to 12, and it’s a bigger sized sweet potato that can easily adapt to different soils, including clay, sandy, and loamy.
This type of sweet potato does take slightly longer to mature at 120 to 135 days, but it’s resistant to southern root-knot nematodes, fusarium wilt, the sweet potato beetle, and internal cork. You should fertilize this sweet potato with a potassium and phosphorus-heavy fertilizer during the active growing season. When you search for slips, try to get ones that are crack resistant. It’s a great all-purpose potato that works well mashed, fried, baked, or in pies.
Anyone who loves having container gardens will like this type of sweet potato. It offers a lighter-orange flesh with a copper-colored skin, and it has a very high sugar content with a moist feel. It’s more prone to disease than other sweet potatoes, and they’re especially vulnerable to internal cork, fusarium wilt, and root-knot nematodes. It’s a very nice baking variety.
Ornamental Sweet Potatoes
Ornamental sweet potato vines are very popular to grow for how they look. They do grow from actual sweet potatoes, but they’re not meant to be food. They won’t kill you if you do eat them, but they have a bitter and unpleasant taste.
The vines get bred for the beautiful colors and leaf shapes. Some vines are meant to grow as ground covers since they grow so rapidly, and you can also get compact and small vines that work well in containers. You can find this type of sweet potato in purple, bronze, red, or green leaves.
As a deep-purple, fast-growing type of sweet potato, you’ll see maple-shaped leaves when it grows. It does very well in warmer weather. Unlike a lot of other ornamental vines, this one will produce flowers. You’ll get a very pretty violet flower in a trumpet shape.
If you want a pretty showstopper for your garden, this purple-silver, multicolored vine is one to get. It will get up to four feet in width, and it produces a huge range of maple-shaped leaves in different purple hues.
Margarita Sweet Potato
This light green type of sweet potato vine is very fast-growing, and it’s a nice way to cover open areas or walls. If you choose to grow it in the shade instead of out in the sun, the leaves will take on a deeper green coloring.
This type of sweet potato vine is a great addition to any ornamental-style garden as it offers pretty maple-shaped leaves that look like it belongs in a New England garden. It works well on a balcony or patio, and it’s very easy to care for as it needs less water than other varieties. It does well grown in partial or full shade, and it has mounding instead of trailing tendencies that makes it do well in hanging baskets.
Sweet Caroline ‘Bewitched with Envy’
This bright vibrant green sweet potato vine offers spade-shaped leaves. It’s a very heat-tolerant variety that does well in partial shade and full sun. It’s a fast grower that you have to keep trained so it doesn’t smother smaller plants around it. To control the growth, make a point to trim it regularly.
Purple Sweet Potatoes
You can get two main varieties of these types of sweet potato, including the Okinawa with a purple interior and white skin or the Stokes Purple with purple skin and flesh. These creamy sweet potatoes are more nutritionally dense than the orange sweet potatoes, and they’re smaller. However, they’re great for mashing and baking.
This is a very long but smaller type of sweet potato that offers a very deep purple tone on the flesh. It comes packed full of healthy antioxidants, and this potato is less sweet and much more dense than the common orange sweet potatoes. Additionally, the nutrition content for this type of sweet potato is better overall.
As the name suggests, this is a Japanese type of sweet potato that has a deep purple coloring on the flesh and a white skin. It has been part of the diet of people from Okinawa for centuries, and this region is also one of the few in the world that eats the blue zone diet. This diet allows a huge portion of the population to live to 100 and beyond. It offers 150% more antioxidants than you get from blueberries.
As the name suggests, this type of sweet potato has dark purple flesh with purple hued skin. The color is a result of anthocyanins that you find in various fruits like blueberries, and this boosts the nutritional content. It takes longer to bake than other sweet potatoes, and it has a lower sugar content. It’s also dryer and denser in texture. This is a newer variety that is very pleasant and earthy when you eat it, and it’s also recently been bred to be disease-resistant.
White Sweet Potatoes
Some growers prefer the orange types of sweet potatoes, but you can also choose from a range of sweet potatoes that have a cream-colored flesh with a tanned skin. They have a slightly different taste profile, but they’re great for frying and baking.
This is a standard type of sweet potato that has creamy yellow flesh with a tan skin, and it’s very commonly grown throughout California. You’ll get a very earthy and sweet flavor, and it’s fairly dry but firm and sweet when you cook it. The nutritional content of this type of sweet potato is very similar to others on the list, but it’s slightly less nutritious than the orange sweet potatoes.
In spite of the name, this sweet potato comes from Louisiana. Today, you’ll see it growing primarily in California, and it’s a purplish-red sweet potato that comes with a pale coloring on the flesh. As a bonus, this type of sweet potato has a nice disease resistance. It has a huge range of uses in the kitchen, and you can use it as a more nutritious substitute to the traditional potato.
A very prolific type of sweet potato, you’ll get mature plants within 90 days. This makes it an excellent option for people who have short growing seasons. The root has a tan exterior coloring with a white inner color. It has a high level of resistance from diseases as it was originally a hybrid of the Beauregard.
This is a novelty type of sweet potato that has a yellowing coloring with a light tan skin. The flesh coloring can alternate between white and yellow. It can grow well in warmer climates and has mild disease resistance, and it offers a great flavor when you fry or bake it.
How to Use Types of Sweet Potatoes
If you’re someone who eats sweet potatoes regularly, you may find yourself with an abundance of them from your garden. Cooking a lot of them will lead to leftovers, and this can eventually lead to waste. To cut back on how many sweet potatoes you toss, the following recipes will help you use them as quickly as possible.
Baking Using Mashed Types of Sweet Potatoes
- Biscuits – To get super tender, moist biscuits, you can add some of your leftover mashed sweet potatoes to the batter. You can then add herbs and honey to make them sweet or savory.
- Cake or Cupcakes – You can use mashed sweet potatoes just like you would bananas to make cupcakes, breads, and cakes. They’re perfect for winter or fall baking. You could even make sweet potato cupcakes topped with a marshmallow frosting.
- Pie – This is a classic Southern dessert, and a lot of people agree that adding types of sweet potato to pie instead of pumpkin is the way to go. Under the filling, you can add a surprise layer of melted brown sugar to bring out the potato’s sweetness.
- Scones – It’s possible to add mashed sweet potatoes to your scone batter to get a very tender dough. To finish it, you can pair it with spices and candied ginger.
Cooked Types of Sweet Potato Recipes
- Baked – A baked sweet potato can be very filling. You can even try a twice-baked sweet potato, especially if you mix shallots, thyme, and Taleggio cheese into the filling.
- Bruschetta or Sandwiches – A fantastic way to use roasted types of sweet potatoes is as a sandwich filling or a toast topping. You can smear ciabatta bread with an aioli and top with pickled red onions, sweet potatoes, and arugula for a nice light meal.
- Burritos – Diced and cooked types of sweet potatoes are a nice addition to burritos. You can freeze the burritos for meals on the go or easy meal prep.
- Curry – Indian curries or kormas are made using a mix of vegetables, and this can include sweet potatoes. Add your cooked sweet potatoes to your curry right as you finish cooking it, or use them to make pakora or Indian fritters.
- Salad – One of the quickest and easiest easy to use baked or roasted types of sweet potatoes is to add them to salad. It works well in a veggie bowl.
- Soup – You can use cooked sweet potatoes in a huge variety of soups. Add roasted, cubed sweet potatoes to minestrone or a mixed bean or vegetable soup right as you finish cooking it. Use boiled or baked types of sweet potatoes to make a creamy potato soup, or you can use mashed sweet potatoes as a thickening agent for chili or stews.
Cooking with Mashed Types of Sweet Potatoes
- Gnocchi – Making sweet potato gnocchi can seem like a huge challenge, but it’s actually a relatively simple process. You do want to have cooked sweet potatoes on hand for the filling though.
- Oatmeal – It’s easy to boost the nutrient content and flavor of your boring breakfast bowl of hot cereal or oatmeal by adding a spoonful of mashed sweet potatoes.
- Pancakes – If you want a sweet kick in your traditional pancakes, adding mashed sweet potato into the batter is a healthy way to do so. You can also have two ingredients, gluten-free pancakes by combining eggs and sweet potatoes.
- Quesadillas – Mashed sweet potatoes can make a delicious and simple filing for your quesadilla. All you have to do is spread a tortilla with mashed sweet potatoes, add shredded cheese, fold and toast it on a skillet. You can also add spinach, black beans, salsa, or whatever fillings you want.
Raw Types of Sweet Potato Recipes
No matter if you bought five pounds of sweet potatoes at the store or if all of your types of sweet potatoes are ready to harvest and use at once, if you have an excess of these tubers, they store very well.
You can put them in a dry, cool place out of the light and they’ll be fine for several weeks. Don’t put them in the refrigerator as the moisture and cold will make them go bad quicker. When you’re ready to cook them, give them a good wash. The peels are packed with nutrients and are edible.
- Fries – This is a sweet side you can have with your burger, and they come with a host more nutrients than you’ll get with traditional fries. They’re also very easy to make at home.
- Fritters – No matter if you call them potato pancakes, latkes, or fritters, several types of sweet potatoes make an excellent addition to these shallow fried pancakes. You can mix them with a combination of other root vegetables or make them 100% sweet potato.
- Gratin – A combination of herbs, cheese, cream, and sweet potatoes gives this dish a very comforting and aromatic taste that is perfect for winter. It works well as a Thanksgiving side, and you can save any leftover scraps and mix into the mashed potatoes.
- Hash – This recipe is a very easy one for breakfast, and it uses a lot of sweet potatoes at a time. All you have to do is dice your types of sweet potatoes and roast them with other vegetables, like onion and mushrooms. You can add protein too, and it’s good to crack a few eggs on top.
- Mashed – Mashed sweet potatoes are usually better than traditional potatoes. YOu can add maple syrup or cinnamon to make them sweet, or you can add a savory flavor profile with rosemary and garlic. They also make a fantastic topping to shepherd’s pie.
How to Preserve Sweet Potatoes
- Canning – You can keep your sweet potatoes ready to go throughout the year by canning them. If you add a simple syrup to the jars, you can keep the flavor in without making them way too sweet.
- Dehydrate – If you slice the sweet potatoes very thin, you can create your own sweet potato chips. You can dry them out in the oven set to the lowest temperature possible for a few hours or use a dehydrator.
- Freeze – Finally, to stock up on types of sweet potatoes, you can freeze them for up to a year. You want to cook them first, by baking, boiling, or baking and mashing them. Allow them to cool completely, put them in an airtight container, and freeze them.
We’ve outlined 20 great types of sweet potatoes for you to consider adding to your garden this year, and you can use them in a huge range of recipes. They also store very well, so you’ll be able to use them before they go bad, even if you get a large crop.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.