Updated: May 28, 2018
By Sophiya Uprety (Freelance Nutritionist) and
Sabina Hora (Nutritionist, Helen Keller International Nepal)
Sweet potatoes are simple, wholesome and a surprisingly nutritious food. They have been a part of human diet since ancient days. In Nepal, they even have a cultural and religious significance during festivals such as Maghe Sakranti, Ekadashi, etc.
They come in a wide range of different colours, textures and delicious flavours. Orange fleshed is one of the varieties that stands out for its nutritional richness as well as superb taste.
Nutrients and Health Benefits
All sweet potatoes contain an array of nutrients such as wholesome carbohydrates, fiber, some protein, vitamins and minerals. The orange fleshed one is particularly rich in beta carotene, an antioxidant and a precursor to Vitamin A, which also gives it the orange colour. It is also an excellent source of Vitamin B and C as well as minerals like calcium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and zinc.
In addition to the being dense in the essential nutrients, it has protective phytonutrients too. They give the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Though sweet in taste, it is not considered a food with high glycemic index. So, it can be consumed in moderation even by those with diabetes. All of these facts culminate into valuable health benefits such as boost of immune system, improved blood sugar and even reduction in risks of cancer.
Orange fleshed sweet potato also provides an excellent food-based strategy against vitamin A deficiency in developing countries. It can be an important part of all food-based approaches for public health nutrition interventions anywhere.
Orange fleshed sweet potato is incredibly versatile for cooking. A range of different sweet and savoury dishes can be made from simple recipes. It can be boiled, steamed, roasted, grilled, mashed, baked, stuffed, etc. It can also be easily incorporated in salads, soups, pancake, in baking (cakes, breads), as spreads or dips, and as pudding or a pie.
It provides a healthy and delicious option as a main dish, a side dish or a snack for all ages. Given the soft texture and nice flavor, it can be considered for not only for adults and school children but also for the elderly and small babies. A nutritious and tasty complementary food for children after six months of age can be made (boiled, mashed and mixed with milk) or small mashed pieces can be mixed with other food.
Another interesting and less known fact is that the tender leaves and shoots of the plant make tasty green vegetables! Light cooking of the greens with a covered lid minimizes the nutrient losses. Whatever the recipe, adding some fats (healthy oil or ghee) is necessary to enhance the availability of nutrients, particularly Vitamin A.
It should also be noted that the nutrients and phytonutrients are found not only in the flesh but also in the skin of the sweet potatoes. So, it is recommended to eat with the skin after thorough cleaning.
Orange fleshed sweet potato can be grown easily. The methods are simple and not very labour intensive. Land of any size is suitable and it is recommended to have raised ridges and avoid water logged areas. Fertile soil should be prepared by mixing sandy loams with organic manure.
It can also be grown well in pots and containers which highlights the potential for urban areas.
There are two methods of planting - tuber and vines. Vines are easier to plant and require two to three inter nodes. Other than weeding and watering, it does not require much care and is also not very susceptible to diseases and pests.
From planting to harvest, one crop cycle lasts four months. In a country with climate like Nepal, they can be sown in June/July and harvested in October/November. Another cycle can again begin from February/March and harvest in May/June.
The shoots (tender tops and leaves) as green leafy vegetables can be picked after two months. That will not affect the tubers growth underneath. The tubers are ready for harvest in four months.
Vines can be removed and used for planting again. Sweetness of the tuber is enhanced after one week from harvest. The firm ones can be selected for storage in a cool, dark and well ventilated places.
Overall, this versatile orange spud should be appreciated for its remarkable value for health. As it can be cultivated twice a year, it has the potential for a year round availability. It therefore deserves to be widely promoted by the agriculture and the nutrition stakeholders.
Orange fleshed sweet potato adds a nutritious and flavoursome variety to diet. Growing own at home is also a feasible option for those who are interested. With regular consumption, one can certainly reap the impressive benefits!
Note: Orange flesh sweet potato vines for planting in Nepal can be obtained from the following individuals: Chatra Kumari Rayamajhi, 9860417223; Ramesh/Sharada Adhikari 981168480