Grocery Guides

Sweet Potatoes – All You Need to Know | Instacart Guide to Fresh Produce



Last Updated: Aug 3, 2021

What are sweet potatoes?

Although they are called potatoes, sweet potatoes are not potatoes at all. Also known as Ipomoea batatas, they’re a member of the morning glory family, whereas the regular potato belongs to the nightshade family. While they both grow under the soil, the former are tubers, and the latter are root vegetables.

Botanical semantics aside, they are distinct vegetables with notable differences in density, taste, and nutrition. Their appearance differs, including skin color, and shape. Sweet potatoes are more slender and have tapered ends. They also usually have thin copper-colored skin, which, when peeled, will usually show vibrant orange flesh. But since there are many varieties, they can also come in white, yellow, and even purple colors.

When it comes to taste, sweet potatoes are more like carrots. They also have a sweet flavor (hence the name), although the sweetness will vary between varieties.

Eaten whole or peeled, sweet potatoes are versatile, tasty, and healthy. Nothing goes wasted here—you can eat leaves and shoots as greens, too.

What are the different types of sweet potatoes?

Hundreds of types of sweet potatoes are grown with widely differing looks and flavors. Garnet sweet potato is a variety with dark orange-red skin and super sweet bright orange flesh. White sweet potato has golden or pale copper skin and white or pale yellow flesh. It can easily be mistaken for regular potato, but the taste is very different. Unlike regular potato, it’s sweet and creamy. However, it’s less sweet than Covington sweet potato, and with lower water content, it’s firmer, stodgier, and drier.

Where did sweet potatoes originate from?

Sweet potatoes originate from Central or South America. They’re an ancient vegetable, at least when it comes to how long they’ve been used in human consumption. Some estimates go back more than 10,000 years! The Inca were growing this starchy veggie when Columbus brought it to Europe.

What is the nutritional value of sweet potatoes?

Fresh vegetables offer some great nutritional benefits, and sweet potatoes are no exception. A cup of peeled, and cubed sweet potatoes have:

  • 114 calories
  • 2.09g protein
  • 0.07g fat
  • 26.7g carbohydrates
  • 3.9g fiber

They are also a great source of beta-carotene—phytochemicals found in orange-fleshed vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes that are orange on the inside. Beta-carotene is critical to maintaining key body functions as it’s a precursor to vitamin A, which means that it converts to vitamin A in the human body.

The varieties with purple flesh are richer in anthocyanins, a phytochemical that gives this veggie amazing color, which is also researched for its benefits in human health.

How are sweet potatoes grown?

Not every climate is sweet-potato friendly. It’s a tropical vegetable that requires a long warm season of 90-120 days with temperatures higher than 85°F and warm nights.

Another interesting fact is that sweet potatoes are not grown from seeds but slips. Slips are green vines grown from existing sweet potatoes when they sprout. When a slip reaches a few inches, it’s pinched off of the vegetable and planted into the soil. Slips are planted out in May, and the root is harvested in September and October.

You can grow your own slips if you save some sweet potato roots for planting next year. Alternatively, you can buy them from nurseries and suppliers.

When are sweet potatoes in season?

Typically, they’re in season from August through November. But because they can stay fresh for long if kept under adequate conditions, they are available year-round.

How do you pick sweet potatoes at the grocery store?

Look out for firm roots without any sign of damage such as blemishes, spots, and scratches. Seek potatoes without sprouts, and avoid soft or wet roots.

Beware of cold damage, which shows up a few days after the crop has been exposed to low temperatures as dark, discolored spots, and lesions. This damaged sweet potato will also have dark spots inside, which are not visible before peeling or slicing.

If you are looking to have your groceries delivered, you can easily shop for sweet potatoes via Instacart. After adding a product to your cart, use the “Instructions” option to notify your Instacart shopper about any preferences or specific directions on how to choose the best products.

How to store sweet potatoes

Given adequate conditions, sweet potato can be an incredibly robust veggie. After the harvest, farmers usually store them in wooden crates in cold, dark, dry, and well-aired storage barns for up to 12 months.

Avoid storing them in the refrigerator because they may turn hard. If stored correctly in a dry, cool place such as a basement or root cellar, they can keep for up to 2–3 months.

Also, it’s a good idea not to store your sweet potatoes near onions, bananas, and apples because gases released from these plants can cause early sprouting of your roots.

If roots are covered with dirt, don’t wash them, as this could lead to rot. Instead, use a dry cloth to remove the dirt.

How to tell if sweet potatoes are bad

When the sweet potato is past its prime, it will show skin discoloration that looks like dark spots. When suspicious odors develop or the roots turn mushy and start leaking juices, it’s time to throw them away. The same goes if its skin gets covered in mold.

What can I substitute for sweet potatoes?

Yam is a common sweet potato sub. Although sweet potatoes of the orange variety are often called yams, that’s inaccurate. Real yams are drier, firmer, and starchier. Also, their skin is thicker, and the flavor is sweeter.

What about potatoes? Generally speaking, white potatoes will not be typical substitutes. They may both be called potatoes, but they are not related and have more starch than their sweet companions.

Add sweet potatoes for delicious and healthy meals

With sweet potatoes, you can have the best of both worlds: a tasty, and healthy meal! Use them raw, baked, or boiled to bring amazing colors and flavor to your meals. With Instacart, it’s now easier than ever to embark on an exciting culinary journey. Choose your fresh produce for same-day delivery and cook well-balanced yet delish meals.



Instacart is the world's largest online grocery service with over 500 million products available from 40,000 stores. To read more Instacart posts, you can browse the company blog or search by keyword using the search bar at the top of the page.

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