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Sweet Potatoes: Could Holiday Favorite Become Tomorrow’s Fast Food? / December 22, 1998 / News from the USDA Agricultural Research Service

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Sweet Potatoes: Could Holiday Favorite Become Tomorrow’s Fast Food?

By Jill Lee
December 22, 1998

Could Mom’s candied yams face some competition in the future? Chemist William Walter thinks so.

Food companies have tried using yams--sweet potatoes--to make savory snacks of patties and fries. But some consumers have found these to be gummy, possibly because of the starch added to hold them together.

Walter, a chemist with the Agricultural Research Service, knows how to make sweet potato patties and fries with less cost and more taste. He has filed a patent on a formula to improve their gelling texture and flavor. A taste panel found that the new formula yields products with a taste that's more like fresh-baked sweet potatoes.

At ARS' Food Science Research Unit in Raleigh, N.C., Walter also used a taste panel to evaluate three puree methods for sweet potatoes. Some companies slice and slow-cook the sweet potatoes before making puree. Others use steam to quick-cook puree made from raw sweet potatoes. A variation on this--to enhance flavor--is to add some raw puree to the steamed puree.

For about one-fourth of the taste panelists, products made with raw ground sweet potatoes had an unappealing grassy taste.

Walter's results suggest slicing and slow cooking is the best way to keep flavor. This method has a side benefit that could add value to the $213 million sweet potato crop. For fries and patties, companies could use sweet potatoes that have high taste qualities but normally would be discarded due to less than perfect shape or size.

People who normally don’t eat sweet potatoes may want to give the new products a try. In addition to taste, sweet potatoes pack a powerful nutritional punch. They are excellent sources of fiber and vitamins A and C and also provide potassium.

Scientific contact: William M. Walter, Jr., ARS Food Science Research Laboratory, Raleigh, N.C., phone (919) 515-2979, fax (919) 856-4361, wmwalter@ncsu.edu.

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