Sweet potatoes are large and sweet-tasting, starchy tubers. Rich in complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are a staple food crop in many different cultures across the globe. Like most types of food, sweet potatoes are generally best when prepared fresh from the harvest.
However, not all people have farms or fertile soil in their backyards for that kind of immediacy. To deal with this, most people have to store and cure sweet potatoes in order to increase its shelf life.
About Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are renowned as a staple food crop across the world for its underground tuber - a naturally abundant source of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, beta-carotene and a hint of basic micronutrients.
Categorized in the Solanaceae family, along with other popular culinary vegetables such as tomatoes, eggplants and peppers, sweet potatoes are ranked relatively high up with regards to nutritional value.
Sweet potatoes are generally grouped between dry sweet potatoes and moist sweet potatoes. Dry sweet potatoes are the kind that end up firm and dry when cooked, while moist sweet potatoes are the kind that end up soft and moist when cooked.
Although there are several known varieties of sweet potatoes being cultivated, only two varieties make up an estimate of 90% of all sweet potato varieties being cultivated in the US: the Beauregard sweet potato and the Jewish yam.
Why Cure Sweet Potatoes?
Sweet potatoes cannot simply be harvested and cooked. In order for them to be as delicious as we know them to be, there is a process you must complete before you make your favorite recipe with sweet potatoes.
Curing sweet potatoes is a must, considering how important this process is for achieving its full flavor. If cooked right after harvesting them, sweet potatoes are actually not sweet at all. They have a bit of a starchy flavor and they do not taste good. When curing sweet potatoes, that starchy flavor disappears and it is replaced by the sweetness we know and love.
Curing potatoes helps seal in the moisture, it heals injuries and most importantly, it activates the enzymes that convert the starch to sugar. This process is essential because, without it, sweet potatoes would rot due to loss of moisture. It is also very important to cure your sweet potatoes if you plan on storing them for later usage
Cured sweet potatoes can be stored for up to a year. There are general recommendations for the curing process. However, one person’s curing process may be different than someone else’s, depending on how carefully they follow the instructions.
The process of curing sweet potatoes needs to start within hours after harvesting them in order to preserve them. This process can take anywhere from 4 to 14 days and must be placed in a hot environment. Ideally, the curing process takes 5 to 7 days at 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit and 80 to 90% humidity.
If the temperature drops just a little bit, the curing process will take longer as the time is doubled. Once the curing process is completed, keep the stored sweet potatoes in a dry, dark place between 55 to 68 degrees for long-term storage.
Curing Using an Oven
You don’t have to look very far in order to cure your sweet potatoes because it can easily be done using your oven. For this process, you will need a 40-watt light bulb and a light bulb socket on a cord, a portable oven thermometer and a 9x13 pan of water. Start by screwing the 40-watt light bulb onto the socket, putting the light bulb in the oven and turning it on.
Thanks to the cord, the door will now be kept slightly opened - just the way it should be. Wait an hour and then check the temperature in the oven. After, place a pan filled with water at the bottom section to ensure there’s humidity in the oven. Load the sweet potatoes onto the oven racks and make sure they are not too close to each other.
During this process, the door should still be left slightly ajar. Now the process of curing begins and should last for about 5-7 days. 6 or 7 days of curing is good, as long as it is not less than 5 days. You have to check the temperature every once in a while and open the door if the oven is too hot.
Put a larger object inside so as to keep the door open and cool the oven a little bit. It is important that the temperature remains steady in order for the curing process to be completed. Store the sweet potatoes appropriately once the curing process is complete.
Curing in a Plastic Bag
If curing in an oven is not an option for you, there is another way.
The simplest and maybe the easiest way to cure sweet potatoes is to place them in a plastic bag. It is very simple but it is important to follow the instructions carefully and the process should be successful.
For this curing process, you will need a plastic bag to place one layer of sweet potatoes. However, before you place them in the plastic, poke several holes in each sweet potato and then carefully place them in a bag. Remember that you have to be placing them in a single layer only.
Close the bag and put it in a warm place - for example, near a window where there is lots of sunlight during the day, or in a sunroom. Avoid cold rooms because sweet potatoes cannot be cured in cold temperatures. The important thing is that the sweet potatoes get enough warmth because this is essential for the curing process.
To make sure, place a towel over them to protect them additionally.
Sweet potatoes should be left like this for 10 days. When they become firm and moist, they are ready for cooking. So, you will be able to start using them. Once the curing process is completed, make sure to remove all soft sweet potatoes.
Curing in a Small Space
In order to cure sweet potatoes, it is important to know what conditions are required. You must make no mistakes, so be careful when curing them. As you now know, sweet potatoes can be cured in several ways and one of them is curing in a small space.
For example, you are able to cure sweet potatoes in a small closet.
This process does not require any special equipment, nor is it a complicated process. You simply leave sweet potatoes in a small closet without previously washing them.
Next, you need to place a bucket of water in the closet, as well. Because warmth is the most important factor when curing sweet potatoes, you must make sure that the inside of the closet is warm enough. You will be able to achieve that by simply placing a space heater next to the sweet potatoes.
It is very useful to keep a thermometer in the closet, so that you get to check the temperature from time to time. This will also indicate whether you need to lower the temperature because you will know if the closet has become too hot.
The same goes for low temperature, if it is not warm enough in the closet, you need to raise the temperature a little bit.
Storing at Room Temperature
Before the advent of electricity and the invention of refrigerators and freezers, sweet potatoes have been cured and stored with traditional methods of food preservation. With the use of the basic principles of the natural sciences, people have been able to significantly prolong the shelf life of sweet potatoes through the following techniques:
Basic Storage of Your Potatoes
With a minimum amount of preparation, the basic storage of sweet potatoes only requires a few steps to follow in order to prolong the tuber’s shelf life. For this method, the best sweet potatoes to use would be the kinds that have just been freshly harvested.
If freshly harvested sweet potatoes are not available, then just fat sweet potatoes will do.
However, if you have access to the plants and will do the harvesting yourself, then take precaution when digging them up to avoid bruising of any kind.
With the sweet potatoes, the first step for storing would be to cure them. For those that passed the visual examination, those are the sweet potatoes that have successfully cured and will have longer shelf lives.
After throwing away the rotten sweet potatoes, the ones successfully cured should then be individually wrapped.
It is recommended to wrap the sweet potatoes in a breathable material such as paper; common materials used are newspapers and paper bags.
The wrapped sweet potatoes should then be placed in a box or basket, or any container that is not airtight.
For final storing, keep the sweet potatoes in a cool and dark place with an average temperature of 15 degrees Celsius (59 degrees Fahrenheit).
The area should also be well ventilated and the best places for storage would be the basement or the cellar. However, a pantry or a cupboard would do fine, as well.
Canning Your Sweet Potatoes
Canning has also been a traditional method for preservation that also applies to sweet potatoes. To can sweet potatoes, they first have to be boiled until soft. This would take an average time of about 20 minutes. The soft sweet potatoes should then be peeled and sliced into chunks of your choice, preferably sizes that will easily fit into the jars you will use.
Fit as many chunks as possible inside the jars, but make sure to leave an inch of space on top. The next step is to pour boiling water inside the jar. This is because sweet potatoes should never be dry-packed. When the jars are filled with sweet potatoes and boiling water, use 11 pounds of pressure when using a dual-gauge pressure canner. Alternatively, 10 pounds of pressure would suffice when using a weighted-gauge pressure canner.
A very old method for food preservation, drying or dehydration relies in removing excess moisture from food - moisture that promotes the growth of spoilage-causing bacteria. A relatively straightforward process, the usual route for drying is to cut the sweet potatoes into thin slices in order to facilitate the dehydration process. The slices are then dried using an oven or a dehydrator. Afterwards, the dried slices should then be kept in an airtight container.
Storing in the Freezer
The refrigerator has been invented specifically for food preservation because the bacteria that causes spoilage slow down when in a cold environment. As a result, the natural shelf life of food is prolonged - this extends to sweet potatoes, as well.
Also a straightforward process, storing sweet potatoes through freezing starts off with washing the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Afterwards, the sweet potatoes should be peeled. After going over each with the peeler, it is recommended to boil the sweet potatoes until tenderly cooked. This is because freezing raw sweet potatoes tend to result to them being broken down with no flavor and nutrients.
After cooking, it is also recommended to cut up the sweet potatoes because freezing the whole thing tends to not end up very well. Depending on your choice, you either mash them up or cut them into slices. Afterwards, it is also recommended to add a little lemon juice, fresh if possible. The lemon juice helps prevent discoloration, but caution must be used because too much lemon juice can eventually alter the taste of the sweet potatoes. After adding the right amount of lemon juice, let the sweet potatoes cool off to room temperature.
Then, keep them in an airtight container such as a resealable plastic bag or a plastic container then just stick the container in the freezer. Avoid glass or metal containers and your sweet potatoes can stay in the freezer up to a year.
With a lot of options out there, you will be able to easily stock up on sweet potatoes and cure them to your heart’s desire. Just make sure to keep the sweet potatoes in the appropriate places for storage, so that you don’t have to worry about anything other than how to prepare them for future meals.