Holy Sweetpotato Batman
A colorful array…
Like Joseph’s coat of many colors, what better vegetable to brighten up your Thanksgiving meal! Orange, white, yellow and purple-flesh sweetpotatoes are coming out of the ground in Live Oak, Hastings, and Fort Pierce at 3 of the 12 UF/IFAS Research and Education Centers. Drs. Grabau and Mussoline are leading an interdisciplinary, multi-State team of researchers in a quest to discover the most productive sweet potato cultivar in Florida. This project was completely funded by the UF Seed-it Grant Program through the UF Research Dean’s Office. NC State, LSU, and CAREnergy (South Carolina) contributed a total of 10 unique cultivars that consist of both commercially available and new breeding lines of sweetpotato. To see each named cultivar up close and personal, just view this 1 minute youtube video – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wue-umcWDE4 The trials were planted in late May and harvested during the month of October, at approximately 135 days of maturity. The unique aspect of this trial were four different purple-flesh cultivars, namely Purple Majesty (NC State), Purple Splendor (NC State), 18-161P (LSU), and Charleston Purple (CAREnergy), that are still in the research stage and have not yet been made commercially available. Overall top performers of all 10 cultivars, in terms of marketable yield, were Beauregard (commercially available orange flesh), Purple Majesty and Purple Splendor. Dr. Sargent is a post-harvest specialist at UF and his team is evaluating nutritional implications associated with curing and storing the purple flesh sweetpotatoes. Anthocyanin concentrations are the primary marker for the post-harvest evaluation.
…that makes tasty treats
While Florida has the ideal climate for growing sweetpotato, the major bottleneck for this crop is establishing local markets. Florida is considered a “red tag” state, meaning that we have an ornery pest known as the sweetpotato weevil. To monitor for this pesky critter, we set pheromone traps at all three research sites and checked the traps weekly. The only site that had any evidence of weevil pressure was in Live Oak. A total of 137 weevils were caught in the trap during the 7 days preceding harvest. Things get complicated when sweetpotatoes are shipped out of Florida through areas that do not have weevil such as parts of Georgia and North Carolina. Therefore, establishing both local and international markets for sweetpotato is a major driver for this research. Statewide Food Systems Specialist David Dinkins made remarkable strides with this year’s harvest by distributing them to local produce vendors and chefs to experiment with making some tasty holiday treats. Leslie Moyers of Treasure Coast Food Bank prepared several batches of sweetpotato pudding for a Halloween celebration at the Indian River Research and Education Center (see photo below). Tracy Nazzaro of Traders Hill Farm provides local produce to the UF Dining Hall and she received approximately 10 pounds of each of the 10 varieties to explore different recipes and preparation styles. To her surprise when she made sweetpotato muffins for UF Research Dean Rob Gilbert using the LSU purple (18-161P) at the Seed-it gathering in Live Oak, the raw material turned from a deep purple hue to a deep forest green color after baking. The same thing happened when Putnam Staff Assistant Kendra Waln and her mom, Geanna, baked up a batch of sweetpotato muffins for Dr. Angle’s special visit to Putnam County. The purple sweet potatoes are not nearly as sweet (as measured by the brix meter pictured below) but they offer an added nutritional punch with anthocyanins. Dr. Steve Sargent is performing a litany of post-harvest evaluations on the anthocyanin concentrations in the different purple flesh cultivars immediately following harvest and also after a few months of storage. A couple growers in the TCAA have experimented with sweetpotato as a secondary cash crop following their potato harvest since this crop thrives in the hot Florida sun during the summer months. Their low input requirements for fertility is a major bonus and after a couple weeks of establishment, the summer rainy season takes care of the irrigation. In my opinion, sweetpotato is a superhero crop that can feed the world!
For anyone interested in trying their hand at making their own sweetpotato pie, UF/IFAS Putnam County Extension Office will be co-hosting a sweetpotato pie contest with Azalea City Brewery located at 120 S. 7th Street in Palatka. Pick up your free 1-pound bag of sweetpotatoes – either orange or purple-flesh while supplies on Thanksgiving Day during brewery hours (or over the weekend). Submissions are due and the contest will be held on Friday, December 3rd. See flyer for complete details – 2021 AZALEA CITY BREWING CO. SWEET POTATO PIE CONTEST (1)
The author is employed by UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agriculture – An Equal Opportunity Institution.