Now in Your Grocery Store: Are Purple Carrots Genetically Modified?

.Purple carrots are relatively new to our tables here in North America. But they actually have a very long history in the rest of the world. Like the ubiquitous orange carrots we already know, they are high in beta-carotene and vitamin A. The purple colour comes from anthocyanins, the same phytochemicals that give blueberries and red cabbage their colour.

Purple carrots are noted for their role in weight loss. They are also high in fiber, and so are good for your heart health. The antioxidants in purple carrots may also help to prevent heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Are purple carrots genetically modified? Learn the history of carrots and their rainbow of colours. | #24CarrotDiet | GMO | purple carrot juice
Purple carrots are new to our markets, but they have a long history in the world

 

Where Do Carrots Come From?

Carrots originated in the Middle East about 5000 years ago. They first grew in Persia, which today is parts of Iran and Afghanistan. Early carrots grew wild, just like Queen Anne’s Lace (our wild carrot) does in many places today. Many of these wild vegetables were purple carrots.

People once used just the leaves and seeds of carrots. The roots were bitter and woody, and not nearly as substantial as today’s carrots. But carrot plants were desirable. As carrots spread throughout Arabia, Africa, and Asia, people began to cross different varieties with one another. This breeding improved upon the wild form and eventually gave us the sweet, crunchy root that we know today.

The ancient Egyptians prized purple carrots so much that they buried their Pharaohs with them. Carrots travelled from Egypt to Greece, and then to Rome. Carrots first appear in writing in Greece. Athenaeus wrote about them around 200 C.E.

Our word “carrot” ultimately comes from the Greek καρωτόν (karōton,) which itself derives from the Indo-European root *ker -, “horn.” So the name we’ve inherited for this vegetable describes its shape. The earliest carrots often branched into two or more forks. So they may even have looked like a pair of horns.

Are Purple Carrots Genetically Modified?

No, purple carrots are not genetically modified. In fact, naturally purple carrots are the earliest varieties of this root vegetable. They grew wild before people started to domesticate them.

Orange carrots didn’t exist in the beginning. But there were yellow carrots, in addition to the purple carrots. White and red carrots came along a bit later. All these colours have been growing consistently, somewhere in the world, since about the Middle Ages. The orange vegetable we eat today appeared fairly recently in the history of carrots.

Purple carrots were grown in Persia, Arabia, and North Africa, at least as far back as the 900s. They spread to Spain in the 12th century, and to Italy and China in the 13th century. By the 17th century, purple carrots had reached Japan as well.

Purple carrots have been popular in parts of Europe for years, but they are only beginning to show up in North America. You should be able to find purple carrots at some farmers markets, and seeds for growing purple carrots are available from most seed catalogues and nurseries. As more consumers become familiar with purple carrots, this will create a demand for the vegetable. We will begin to see purple carrots in grocery stores as that demand influences growers for the organic produce market and then later the conventional vegetable market.

 

 

Are Carrots Genetically Modified to Be Orange?

I was watching a video about purple carrots today, and the narrator said that the early purple and yellow carrots were genetically modified to make them orange. This is simply not true.

The World Health Organization definition of genetic modification says that it happens when “the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination.” The first genetically modified organisms were produced in the early 1970’s. The first genetically modified food to receive approval for sale was the Flavr Savr tomato, in the United States during the 1990s.

Orange carrots were first seen around the 16th or 17th centuries, when most Europeans were eating white, yellow, or purple carrots. Some combination of domestication and natural selection led to an orange carrot, probably as an improvement on the yellow carrot. This new carrot became popular in Holland because of its colour. Dutch farmers grew it in honour of William of Orange, and are responsible for stabilizing the cultivar over the next century or so.

Now the orange carrot is the one much of the world thinks of whenever we say, “carrot.” As this happened centuries before the advent of genetic modification, it’s impossible that the first orange carrots were genetically modified.

Do Purple Carrots Taste Different?

In the video above, personal chef Pat Mulvey says she can taste a subtle difference between carrots of different colours. According to her, the darker carrots have more flavour, while the lighter coloured carrots have a more subtle taste. I’m not sure most of us would be able to notice the difference.

I have grown purple carrots alongside red carrots, orange carrots, and even yellow and white ones. I didn’t find any significant difference in the taste of the carrots, whether we ate them raw or cooked. Purple carrots taste pretty much the same as the orange ones you’ve been eating all your life. Though of course, if you’re buying them from your local farmers market carrots of any colour will taste more fresh than grocery store carrots!

Are Carrots the Only Purple Root Vegetable?

Purple carrots are not the only root vegetables that grow in that particular hue. There are a number of other purple root vegetables, including purple sweet potatoes and a few purple varieties of the usually white potato. There are also purple radishes and purple kohlrabi. And a type of purple yam popular in the Philippines, ube, currently has a huge presence on Instagram.

Growing Purple Carrots in Your Garden

There are several different varieties of purple carrots that you can grow in your garden. A number of other carrot cultivars also exist in hues of white, yellow, red, orange, and even purple so dark it looks black.

Many of the newer coloured carrot varieties have fun names, often inspired by an outer space theme. We have experimented with a mix of carrots that includes ‘Lunar White,’ ‘Solar Yellow,’ ‘Cosmic Purple,’ and ‘Atomic Red’ varieties. These mixes are often sold as “Kaleidoscope Carrots” or “Rainbow Carrots.”

Some purple carrots are purple all the way through. Others are purple carrots, orange inside. There are even purple carrots that are white or pale purple inside. If you have a preference for one or the other of these types, check before you choose your purple carrot seeds. Most seed catalogues will show an image of the cut carrot, or will mention if the core of the carrot is orange or white instead of purple.

 

 

Pure Purple Carrots

  • Black Nebula’ Carrot: Grows very dark purple carrots that look almost tie-dyed when cut. This variety has very high levels of anthocyanins, and retains its colour when cooked. If you juice this carrot and then add a little lemon, the juice will turn bright pink. This rare Imperator type carrot is sometimes used to make purple dye. The purple carrots grow quite long, but one listing suggests they are best picked when only 10 cm (4”) long. The leaves and flowers of these purple carrots are tinged with purple. How cool is that? Days to maturity: 75-80.

  • Deep Purple’ Carrot: This is one of the only pure purple carrots available. The colour is very dark, almost black, and doesn’t generally fade with cooking. This Imperator type carrot grows to a length of about 17-20cm (7-8”) but some catalogue listings say they can grow to almost twice that length. This is a hybrid variety. Days to maturity: 75-80.

  • Gniff’ Carrot: These short purple carrots are extremely slow to grow. They are a very rare landrace from Switzerland with an amethyst purple exterior and a white to violet core. The carrots are very striking when cut lengthwise. They only grow to about 10 cm (4”) long, and are traditionally used for pickling in vinegar and olive oil. Days to maturity: 130–140.

Purple Carrots with Orange Inside

  • Cosmic Purple’ Carrot: This is a Danvers type carrot, meaning it’s a tapered carrot about 15-20 cm (6-7”) long. Fiber in carrots of the Danvers type is apparently high, and the carrots are good for longer storage. Cosmic Purple carrots were developed by Dr. Philipp Simon and the USDA Agricultural Research Service team in Madison, Wisconsin. The carrots have an orange core. Their purple colour doesn’t fade when cooked. Days to maturity: 60.

  • Purple Dragon’ Carrot: This is another Danvers carrot. Purple dragon carrots are purple on the outside, with a core that is yellow to orange in colour. Their taste is supposed to be slightly spicy. These purple carrots are open pollinated. Days to maturity: 70-75.

  • Purple Haze’ Carrot: This hybrid carrot was an All-American Selection winner in 2006. It grows purple carrots, orange inside. These Imperator type carrots are 25-30cm (10-12″) long, tapering to a point. The colours are brilliant when the carrots are raw, but the purple fades when cooked. Days to maturity: 70.

  • Other purple carrots include ‘Beta-Sweet,’ ‘Black Spanish,’ ‘Purple 68, ‘Purple Dutch,’ and ‘Purple Elite’.

 

 

 

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Purple carrots are loaded with carotene and anthocyanin
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter

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Healthy Living Help: Potato Nutritional Info & Why It’s Not a Bad Idea to Eat Them

Have you ever read potato nutritional info? Most of us read the nutritional info on packages of processed foods. But we don’t often take the time to look at what’s in the fresh fruits and vegetables we eat. So I’ll bet you don’t really know what nutrients are found in potatoes – other than maybe carbs and potassium. I thought today I’d like to share some potato nutrition facts. I also want to look at whether it’s really necessary to limit potatoes in your diet.

You won’t find potato nutritional info written on their skins or posted in the grocery store. And unless the package includes some sort of health claim or nutrient reference, potato nutritional info isn’t even a required on the potato sack. Thankfully, we can look online to check nutrition claims for and against eating plain old, white potatoes.

Potato nutritional info: Should you avoid this starchy vegetable? | #24CarrotDiet
Should you avoid white potatoes?

Is There Such a Thing as a Good Potato?

Most of us grew up eating a “meat and potatoes” diet. We thought of potatoes as healthy, but also pretty much a necessity on our supper plates. Growing up, we probably ate potatoes about 20-25 days on 30. We occasionally ate pasta for supper, and a few times a month we’d replace the potatoes with rice. But other than that, it was a pretty steady diet of boiled or mashed potatoes every night.

A few years back, we started hearing that we should cut back on carbs like white rice and pasta. Not long after, experts began to expand their advice. I remember a doctor about five years ago, telling my husband to completely stop eating everything white. He was including potatoes in that advice.

We’d been hearing about starchy vegetables for a while by that point. Some people absolutely vilified corn (maize) and potatoes. I can remember reading claims that corn was just a whole lot of fat, starch, and empty calories. Other diet myths suggested that all starch was immediately converted into fat in our bodies.

Food trends over the past decade have seen baked and boiled potatoes lumped in with less healthy potato-containing foods like French fries, potato chips, and potato dishes like creamy mashed potatoes and potatoes au gratin, that include a lot of fat from cream, butter, and cheese. We are replacing white potatoes with sweet potatoes, which actually have a similar nutritional profile. We are also replacing potatoes in dishes like shepherd’s pie with a mashed cauliflower substitute.

 

 

Potato Nutritional Info

Do we really need to limit our intake of white potatoes, or maybe even replace them completely in our diet? Is there such a thing as a good potato? It turns out that potatoes are actually pretty healthy. Yes, even the white ones! Check out some potato nutritional info that will help you to make an informed decision about whether you want to include the tuber in your diet.

Potato Starch and Weight Loss

Potatoes are mostly water. A medium potato (raw) weighs about 213 grams, and almost 175 g of that is water. After water, the next component is 28.73 g of starch. I’m sure you were expecting that number to be fairly high. What you may not know is that potato starch is a form of resistant starch that feeds your gut bacteria. You can read more about that below.

Starch isn’t always included in the nutrition facts on a food label, so you may not be aware that we eat a lot of it. Starch is actually the most common carbohydrate in our diet. It’s found in two main types of foods: grains and cereal products, and starchy vegetables. These vegetables include root vegetables like parsnips and potatoes. But they also include green peas, pumpkin and winter squash, and legumes. There is also starch in nuts and seeds.

Amount of Fiber in Potatoes

You knew about the starch, but you might be surprised by the fiber content in potatoes. Dietary fiber makes up 5.1 g of a medium potato. And that amount represents 20% of your daily fibre requirement. Fiber helps to make you feel full. It also plays a role in digestion, heart health, and feeding your gut bacteria, among other things.

Do Potatoes Have Vitamin C?

Yes, actually potatoes do contain a fair bit of vitamin C! A medium potato supplies 19.4 g of vitamin C, or 32% of your daily requirement. That’s more than you’d get from a cup of watermelon.

Potatoes also contain a number of other vitamins, particularly B vitamins. A medium white potato supplies 20% of your vitamin B6, about 13% of niacin, 11% of thiamine, and 10% each of folate and pantothenic acid.

You already know that vitamin C is important for your immune system, and you probably learned at some point that a deficiency of vitamin C causes scurvy. This was the disease that killed off many of the early European settlers in Canada, until the Iroquois taught them to make a tea from white cedar to ward off the disease. Vitamin C is also an antioxidant that plays a role in heart health and may help lower your risk of cancer. With potassium, vitamin C can help to regulate blood pressure.

B vitamins help to convert food to energy in your body. They also play an important role in cell division and the formation of red blood cells, and in the health of your nervous system. Your body uses vitamin B6 to make several neurotransmitters, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. According to LiveScience, eating potatoes may be helpful to people coping with stress, depression, and even ADHD. Vitamin B6 is additionally known for relieving morning sickness. When I was pregnant, I had terrible morning sickness. A baked potato with a little salt was one of my favourite remedies for the nausea.

 

 

How Much Potassium is in Potatoes?

You probably know that bananas are a good source of potassium, a crucial mineral that’s important to regulate the fluid and electrolyte balance in your body. So are potatoes! Potassium plays a role in the health of your brain, organs, muscles, and bones. A medium white potato supplies 24% of your day’s potassium. Potatoes also supply magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and a modest amount of calcium, zinc, and sodium.

In addition to the vitamins and minerals in potatoes, you’ll also find carotenoids, flavonoids and the polyphenol, caffeic acid. Caffeic acid is an antioxidant that may reduce both exercise-related fatigue and inflammation. It is also associated with the prevention of premature aging, cancer. Diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

Boiled Potatoes and Satiety

If you’ve been avoiding potatoes because you heard that white starch is bad or they have a high glycemic index, think again. Potatoes are incredibly filling, and they can also help to regulate your blood sugar. Australian researcher Susanna Holt showed that boiled potatoes had the highest satiety rating of 38 foods surveyed. They rated a 323, or more than three times more filling than white bread, calorie for calorie. That’s more than 100 points higher than oatmeal, popcorn, peanuts, cheese, and even steak!

In order to preserve the water-soluble vitamins in potatoes, scrub them well and boil them with the skins on. Eat them, skin and all. If you want to benefit from the resistant starch, cool the potatoes before you eat them. You can eat them cold, as in potato salad. Or you can reheat them slowly at a low temperature (no higher than 130 Fahrenheit, or about 55 Celsius. Heating at low temperatures prevents the starch being converted back into a digestible form.

Potato Nutritional Info: Bottom Line

Potatoes are not the nutritional demon we might believe they are. Potatoes are low in calories and provide plenty of nutritional fiber. They are also high in vitamin C and several B vitamins, as well as potassium. A boiled potato will fill you up better than a same-calorie portion of steak!

If you are interested in weight loss, try boiling potatoes with their skin on and then cooling them before eating. This preserved both the water-soluble vitamins and the resistant starch that helps to control blood sugar and feed your gut bacteria. When you look at the truth of potato nutritional info, you’ll see that it’s still OK to eat this vegetable. Don’t avoid it!

 

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Potatoes are not the nutritional demon we might think they are
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Best Vegetable Recipes Ever: Sweet, Tangy Root Vegetable Mash Will Kick Plain Potatoes Off Your Plate!

Root vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and beets are popular foods for fall and winter because they store well. Along with winter squash, they are vegetable crops that generally take a longer time to reach maturity. We harvest them at the end of the growing season. By that time, the plant has had lots of time to store sugars in the roots. Around the same time the weather starts to turn cold, our bodies begin to crave squash soup and stews thick with root vegetables.

Besides being well suited for long storage, root vegetables also provide fibre, starch, and low-glycemic complex carbohydrates. When we eat them, we tend to feel full and to stay full longer. This is important during the cold weather when we might otherwise sit around nibbling on less healthy foods. That feeling of satiety can mean that we will eat less during meal times. It may also help prevent between meal snacking. Eating root vegetables regularly throughout the winter is just one strategy for maintaining a healthy diet and preventing holiday weight gain.

Humble Root Vegetables for Special Occasions

While root vegetables may seem very earthy and humble, they can become the stars of a meal if you know how to cook them. Sweet potatoes and carrots contain a ton of vitamin A. Their bright orange colour reminds us how nutritious they are. Plain old boiled potatoes scored the highest of 38 foods on the satiety index. Compared to other foods, you need to eat less of them to feel full. One study even showed that if you eat boiled potatoes with a pork steak, you’ll eat less during your meal. The boiled potatoes also produced less of an insulin spike than rice or pasta. And potatoes may even affect how your body responds to the “hunger hormone,” ghrelin.

The rutabaga, also called yellow turnip or swede, is a new vegetable for a lot of people. I was actually surprised by this when I first wrote about turnips. It seems many of my readers and social media connections have never eaten either a turnip or a rutabaga. I heard from, a lot of people who said they’d been nervous about trying these root vegetables. Many decided they wanted to try them after reading about the different ways you can cook turnips. You probably didn’t know that the turnip is related to cabbage and other brassicas. If you eat the turnip greens, you can taste the similarity to leafy green vegetables like kale or collards. But that connection isn’t as obvious if you’re just eating the root.

Rotmos, Mashed Root Vegetables

I first had root mash when I worked at a chronic care hospital, where the cafeteria served it regularly. Their version of the traditional Swedish dish was very simple: basically just carrots and rutabaga boiled together and mashed. I loved the tangy taste of the rutabaga with the sweet carrots. When I started making root mash at home, I cooked it very simply. And because I liked the smooth look of the mash when it was pureed for patients who had difficulty chewing, I often pureed my own root mash to make it smoother.

A traditional rotmos is a bit more involved than just boiling carrots and rutabaga together, though. In Sweden, there is a dish called fläsklägg med rotmos, or ham hock with root mash. To prepare this dish, you cook onions and carrots in a pot with a cured ham hock. When the meat comes away from the bone, you remove it from the pot and add more root vegetables. Cook the vegetables in the ham broth until tender, then mash them. Most recipes include rutabaga and potatoes. But you’ll also see some recipes that call for parsnips or the root of Hamburg parsley.

I’ve chosen to create a recipe that includes the ham hocks, since this recalls a Québécois Christmas dish that I love. Since it’s rare to find Hamburg parsley in North America, my recipes calls for parsnips. But if you can’t find parsnips at your grocery store or farmer’s market, just use a little extra rutabaga.

 

 

Mashed Root Vegetables, The Recipe

2-1/2 lb cured ham hocks
1 medium onion, cut into quarters
1/2 carrot, peeled and cut into large chunks
5 whole allspice berries
a few peppercorns

4-1/2 carrots
2-3 parsnips
1 medium rutabaga or 2-3 medium turnips

6 potatoes

1-2 tbsp butter (vegan butter or margarine, for vegan-friendly option)
a little ground nutmeg or allspice
a handful of chopped Italian parsley (optional)

Directions:

  1. In a heavy pot with about 3 cups water, cook the ham hocks with the onion, half carrot, allspice, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil, covered; reduce heat and simmer about 2 hours or until the meat comes away from the bones.

  2. When the meat is almost cooked, peel and dice the root vegetables. Keep the peels and end bits of the vegetables for your soup bag.

  3. Remove the meat from the pot and set aside. Strain out the whole spices and any really big pieces of onion that remain. Add the carrots, parsnips, and rutabaga to the pot. Cover and return to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 30 minutes.

  4. Add potatoes and cook about 15 minutes more, or until the vegetables are soft. Remove from heat and drain, reserving the cooking liquid.

  5. Mash the vegetables, adding the butter and just enough of the cooking liquid to make the root mash smooth. The traditional way to serve rotmos is with a little bit of the chunks still in it. But I like to mash very well, or even to puree the root vegetables. You can do this with an immersion blender to speed things up a bit. Taste before adding salt and pepper, as the ham hocks are salty and you’ll have cooked the vegetables along with the peppercorns.

  6. Serve the mashed root vegetables alongside a portion of meat stripped from the ham hocks. Spoon a little of the cooking liquid over the meat, or use it to make gravy. Add a leafy green vegetable such as garden peas, kale or turnip greens to the plate for colour

Serves 6-8 people

Variations:

  1. If you can’t find cured ham hocks (pig’s knuckles) you can substitute a bone-in ham.

  2. To make just the mashed root vegetables, omit the ham hocks and cook in 3 cups of vegetable stock. Since there’s no meat to cook, put all the vegetables except the potatoes in the stock and cook for 30 minutes only. Add the potatoes and cook another 15 minutes.

  3. If you have a garden, consider growing Hamburg parsley for this dish. Like many other root vegetables, it’s dual purpose. You can eat the parsley greens throughout the summer while the roots are maturing. In the fall, harvest the roots. They taste like parsnips, but with a hint of parsley. Use the roots instead of the parsnips in this recipe; substitute the greens for the Italian parsley.

  4. Feel free to experiment with other root vegetables. I have seen recipes that include celeriac root and even sweet potatoes. You might also try adding peeled kohlrabi roots to the mash. The leaves of the kohlrabi make a lovely cooked green.

 

Helpful Hints:

  1. When you cook rotmos and ham hocks, save the bones for making pea soup. Or add them to your soup bag and use them to make a meaty stock.
  2. Save any leftover cooking liquid in labelled jars for later use, or freeze in ice cube trays for smaller portions.
  3. If you have small amounts of leftover root vegetables, you can use them to make a small batch of creamy root vegetable soup.

 

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Mashed root vegetables are a tangy alternative to plain mashed potatoes
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Sweet Potato or Yam: Why Does This Healthy Vegetable Have So Many People Confused?

Sweet potatoes have been part of the typical Thanksgiving menu for a century or more, although neither they nor regular everyday potatoes were present at the first Thanksgiving feasts on either side of the border. If you grew up in the United States, you probably remember eating candied yams or sweet potato casserole topped with marshmallows alongside your turkey and cranberries.

If you grew up in the American south, you may have also eaten sweet potato pie at Thanksgiving for dessert – instead of pumpkin pie. (And that rivalry between sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie is the stuff of a whole ‘nother conversation!)

Here in Canada, these dishes are not nearly as common as they are in the United States but sweet potatoes are still one of our Thanksgiving sides – usually just baked and served with a pat of butter. We also eat sweet potatoes with our Christmas dinner, and pretty much any other time we cook a turkey with all the trimmings. In fact for many Canadians, these are probably the only times in the year that we eat a sweet potato, more’s the shame!

But is it a Sweet Potato or a Yam?

The question of whether we’re actually eating a sweet potato or a yam is a confusing one. Let me share a personal experience with you to illustrate what I mean. Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October here in Canada, so we had our big turkey dinner a little over a month ago. And as every year, there was a bowl on the table filled with small, foil-wrapped nuggets still steaming from the oven.

“Do you want sweet potatoes?” my mother asked as she held the bowl out towards me. “Well, they’re really yams.” she added. “I made sure to get yams instead of sweet potatoes.” She then went on to explain that the yams were smaller, sweeter, and softer when cooked than sweet potatoes are. And they have a darker-coloured flesh.

Well, this was news to me!

 

 

Why was Mom Calling Sweet Potatoes, ‘Yams’?

In all my 50 years on the planet, we’ve never called those lovely, orange-fleshed tubers “yams” in our family. And I generally see this vegetable sold as “sweet potato” in the stores. Most of my friends call them sweet potatoes too, so I had always kind of assumed that “sweet potato” was more of a Canadian expression, while our American neighbours seem to prefer “yam.” (There is, of course, a completely unrelated African tuber properly called a yam, that has been available in North American grocery stores for several years now. If you’ve ever had those yams, you know they are very different from a sweet potato, whatever we choose to call it in Canada and the US.)

So why was Mom suddenly calling our sweet potatoes “yams”? And why was she talking about there being some sort of difference in the size, colour, and firmness of the flesh?

Sweet potato (not a yam)
Note the smooth skin and tapered end of the sweet potato
(Image: LauraLisLT/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

 

What is a Sweet Potato?

The scientific name for the sweet potato is Ipomoea batatas. If you’re familiar with botanical names for popular flowers, you might recognize that sweet potatoes are related to morning glories. In fact, the resemblance between the flowers of the two plants is remarkable. Could you tell one from the other if you saw these two plants growing side by side?

The flower of a sweet potato plant
The sweet potato is one vegetable you might want to grow just for the flowers!
(Image: Deborah Hayes/Public Domain Pictures/CC0 1.0)

 

A morning glory flower looks very similar to the sweet potato flower
This second flower is a morning glory. Could you tell them apart?
(Image: ccipeggy/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

 

Sweet potatoes are a New World vegetable. They were first domesticated about 5,000 years ago, probably in Central America. But today they are grown throughout much of the Americas. They are also cultivated in some parts of Africa, in India, China, and other Asian nations, and also in Polynesia and Australasia.

Although the common name implies that these are potatoes, the sweet potato is only distantly related to potatoes. The potato belongs to the nightshade family (Solanaceae,) along with tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. The sweet potato belongs to the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae.) Both families are members of the order Solanales. That makes the two root vegetables sort of distant cousins. Sweet potatoes are also not related to yams, which are tubers in the family Dioscoreaceae. The yam is an Old World vegetable native to Africa and Asia, and is more closely related to grasses and lilies than to either potatoes or sweet potatoes.

 

 

What Does a Sweet Potato Look Like?

Sweet potatoes have tapered ends and smooth, thin skin. The skin can range in colour from copper or brown to red or even purple. The flesh of a sweet potato is usually orange, varying in saturation from deep orange all the way to yellow or beige. Sweet potatoes can also have white or purple flesh.

A sweet potato showing the deep orange flesh inside – just remember the colour can vary!
Sweet potatoes come in a wide range of colours – including purple!
(Image: National Cancer Institute/Wikimedia Commons/public domain)

 

By contrast, yams have coarse, scaly skin that is sometimes compared to a tree trunk. They are cylindrical tubers, usually with white flesh. Some North American grocery stores stock African yams, but you’ll probably need to go to an import store or specialty market unless you live in a big city.

The yam is an Old World vegetable and is completely unrelated to sweet potatoes
This yam has a coarse, bark-like skin and a more tubular shape than a sweet potato
(Image: chrisad85/Pixabay/CC0 1.0)

 

Why Do We Sometimes Call Sweet Potatoes Yams?

There seem to be two main reasons for the use of the word “yam” when we are actually talking about sweet potatoes:

  1. African slaves used this name:
    Yams are one of the staple foods in Africa. West African people saw a resemblance between yams and sweet potatoes, so they used the same word for both vegetables. Some accounts say Europeans introduced sweet potatoes to the people of West Africa, who later came to the New World as slaves. Other stories say the slaves first encountered sweet potatoes once they’d arrived in America. As the slave trade was carried on for some three centuries, it’s likely both are true. In any case, the West African people used sweet potatoes the same way they did yams, and they used the same name for both.

  2. Farmers in Louisiana used this name:
    All sweet potatoes originally had white or pale yellow flesh. So darker-fleshed sweet potatoes were a pretty cool development! Farmers in Louisiana had a sweeter, orange-fleshed variety of the sweet potato in about the 1920s or 1930s. Because you can’t tell what the inside of a vegetable looks like from its skin and you don’t know how sweet it is until you eat it, they needed to find a clever way to set their sweet potato apart from the rest.

    The farmers called their vegetable a “yam,”  sweet potatoes. The Louisiana crops contrasted with the drier, firmer fleshed sweet potatoes that farmers elsewhere in the US were growing. This is why you’ll sometimes see people using “yam” to describe a sweet potato that has soft, moist, richly coloured flesh, and “sweet potato” for those vegetables whose flesh is firm, dry, and often more pale in colour.

Although we all have our preferences when it comes to the type of sweet potatoes we like to eat, you should know that the “yam” type of sweet potato is better suited to some recipes and the more firm, dry-fleshed sweet potato is better for others. Sweet potatoes that are softer are great for baking, mashing, and of course making a sweet potato casserole or baking a sweet potato pie. But those with a firmer flesh will make great sweet potato fries.

Sweet Potato Nutrition

Some folks say that the sweet potato is a superfood. If you look at its nutritional content, it’s not hard to see why. One average sweet potato, baked in its skin, contains 438% of our recommended daily intake for vitamin A – a nutrient that about half of North Americans are lacking in their diet. 

Sweet potato also scores high for several other nutrients: 37% of vitamin C; 27% of potassium; 25% each of vitamin B6 and manganese; 15% each of vitamin B6, potassium, and dietary fibre; 10% of thiamine (vitamin B1.) Sweet potatoes also supply lesser amounts of magnesium, iron, calcium, phosphorus, zinc, sodium, several additional B vitamins, and protein. Wow!

Baking Increases Vitamin C in Your Sweet Potato

Baking is a preferred cooking method for sweet potatoes, as it increases the vitamin C content of the vegetable. If you prepare it by a different method, you won’t get as much of the vitamin C but it’s still a nutritious vegetable. One baked sweet potato provides 103 calories (compared with 163 calories for a medium baked potato or 174 calories for 1 cup of potatoes mashed with whole milk.)

If you are eating sweet potatoes for their vitamin A and carotenoid content, choose those with the richer orange colour to their flesh. If you decide to experiment with purple sweet potatoes you’ll benefit from anthocyanins, the same flavonoids found in blueberries. White-, cream-, or yellow-coloured sweet potato flesh contains mostly beta-zea-carotene.

When it’s time to eat that turkey dinner, choose a baked potato and other high-fibre vegetables. Eat these and a healthy portion of turkey before you move onto other foods and drinks. Research shows that eating lean protein and high-fibre vegetables at the beginning of your meal can reduce both blood sugar and insulin levels, compared to consuming foods like bread or fruit juices first.

Healthy living tip: Eat high-fibre veggies & lean protein first – 24 Carrot Diet
Avoid holiday weight gain: Eat lean protein and high-fibre vegetables like sweet potatoes at the beginning of your meal
( Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user LauraLisLT)

 

Do you include sweet potatoes in your Thanksgiving dinner sides? Or “yams”? How does your family like to serve them? Please share your traditions in the comments below. And to all my American readers who will be celebrating with family this week, Happy Thanksgiving!

 

Want to pin this post for later? Feel free to use the graphic below:

Sweet potato or yam: do you know the difference? Whether you call them yams or sweet potatoes, the vegetables in your Thanksgiving sides are probably New World sweet potatoes and not Old World yams. | food history | sweet potato nutrition | 24 Carrot Diet
Sweet potatoes come in a wide range of colours, from cream or yellow through deep orange. There are even purple sweet potatoes!
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Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user LauraLisLT

 

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This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!

5 Fantastic Ways to Liven Up the Humble Turnip – Updated!

Turnip or Rutabaga?

It must be a Canadian thing. The vegetable that I grew up calling turnip is actually a rutabaga. This homely vegetable is thought to be a cross between a wild cabbage and a white turnip. Rutabaga is also known as swede, yellow turnip, or winter turnip. It is larger than a white turnip, and therefore easier to peel. It is good for long storage too, whereas your white turnips may not have the same staying power.

Both the white turnip and the yellow turnip belong to the brassica family, whose members are high in vitamins A, C and K, folic acid, and fibre. They also contain a surprising amount of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and glucosinolate. You may know the brassicas as cruciferous vegetables, a name derived from the distinctive cross shape of their flowers.

 

What am I going to do with 20 lbs of yellow turnips?
The true turnip, otherwise known as summer turnip or white turnip (Image: Clagett Farm CSA at thebittenword.com/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

How to Cook Turnips

Most folks are a bit hesitant to cook turnips because – well, they’ve never cooked with turnip! Some people do boil and mash them, but since many people find the taste sharp by itself it’s good to know a few other ways to introduce turnip into your diet.

 

 

  1. Eat turnip raw: Just cut it into small pieces and enjoy as is. Believe me, it’s good! Rutabaga is sweeter than you would expect, and it has a little bit of tang that is an interesting departure from other raw vegetables like carrot sticks.

You can also get a variety of turnip that is exceedingly tender and meant to be eaten raw. They are smooth, round, and white; they look a little like a button mushroom. Look for them at your farmers market or grocer’s produce section under the name “salad turnips.” They are also sometimes known as Hakurei or Tokyo turnips, and are a Japanese variety that mature early in the summer, like radishes. Slice them thinly and add to any green salad. They are really yummy with a balsamic vinaigrette!

If you can’t find salad turnips, try turning raw rutabaga or white turnips into turnip slaw. Shred the roots or cut them into julienne strips. If the taste is a bit odd at first, you can take a small amount and mix it in with your favourite coleslaw or broccoli slaw recipe. Or just add some shredded turnip to any green salad.

Recent nutrition studies favour eating our vegetables raw instead of cooked, so anytime you can eat turnips raw, don’t pass up the chance!

 

Hakurei, or salad, turnips are tender white roots that don’t need to be cooked
Salad turnips are sweeter than other turnips – and so tender you can cut them with a butter knife!
Graphic made in Canva using a public domain image by Pixabay user Hans

 

  1. Boil turnip: Cook up a batch of turnips and simply mash them with a little butter and salt. It’s heavenly, especially when made with the pretty yellow flesh of a rutabaga! You can also mash turnip with other root vegetables.

My mother-in-law used to make Scottish “tatties and neeps” in order to sneak the turnip into my husband’s diet when he was little. There is also rotmos, a Swedish puree traditionally made from turnip, carrot and potato. I like to leave out the potato, and just blend equal proportions of the carrot and turnip. It’s so sweet and delicious!

Other good matches for boiled turnip would be sweet potato, or even a little baked acorn or butternut squash. Flavour your mash with freshly grated ginger, some cinnamon, nutmeg or allspice, a little paprika or some thyme. Turnip goes well with chives, onion, or garlic too.

You don’t even have to mash the turnip after boiling it. Instead, try cutting it into julienne strips before cooking, and just serve your turnip julienne with a little butter or a honey-lemon glaze.

  1. Add turnip to soups and stews: I’ve always loved a good beef stew with turnip in it. But you can toss a bit of turnip into just about any soup or stew to boost its nutritional content, and bring a little zip to the flavour. If you like cream soups or chowders, add a bit of turnip to your favourite recipe and blend it until smooth. This is a great way to introduce turnips if you or your kids find the taste too strong. Increase the amount of turnip each time you make the soup, to help your taste buds adjust to the flavour.
Cooking with turnips – 5 cool ways to cook turnips and rutabagas | Updated! | 24 Carrot Diet
How to cook turnips – or rutabagas, neeps, swede, or winter turnip, as the case may be!

 

  1. Bake or roast turnips: Cooking turnips in the oven is a snap. Just brush with a little olive oil and sea salt, and roast for about 30 minutes at 400ºF. You can also just slice a winter turnip into 1/2” pieces and tuck them under a chicken or turkey before cooking.

If you want to add turnip to a casserole with other foods, steam or boil it briefly first and then pat dry. This allows you to add turnips to recipes the otherwise wouldn’t give it the chance to cook all the way through.

Want to make healthy turnip fries? No problem! Cut your turnips into thick slices and boil them a bit to soften them up. Then coat them in oil and lay them on a sheet pan. Bake them at 425°F for about 20 minutes, or until crisp. Check out the video below if you want a fancier recipe for your turnip fries.

Roast turnip with other root vegetables like carrots or parsnips, or bake it with slices of butternut squash. If you like cheese, try sprinkling with a little Parmesan before serving.

  1. Make turnip noodles: If this idea sounds crazy to you, maybe you haven’t heard of spiralizing. Essentially, this cool new trend involves using a special spiral vegetable cutting gadget that slices your veggies into long thin ribbons – just like pasta noodles! The “noodles” are served with your favourite sauces instead of the less healthy, high carb pasta that puts a spare tire around our middles. Serving spiralized turnip is a great way to include this nutritious veggie in your diet. Eat them raw or cooked!

 

 

Did you find this post informative? If so, I hope you’ll share it with others who will be interested in learning more about turnips! Share this post by using the social media sharing buttons at left, or feel free to use the image below to pin it on Pinterest.

 

Cooking with Turnips | Fun new ways to cook turnips and rutabagas – and ideas for eating these healthy root vegetables raw too! | 24 Carrot Diet
Turnips and rutabagas are healthy cruciferous vegetables
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Original content © 2016-2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
Last updated 23/12/2017

This article was published on my food blog, 24 Carrot Diet. If you are reading this content anywhere else, it has probably been stolen. Please report it to me so I can address any copyright infringements. Thank you!