Sweet (Potato) Science

Sweet (Potato) Science

Sure, everyone knows about turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. But somewhere hidden behind the gravy boat and that mountain of rolls, if you're very lucky this Thanksgiving you just might find a truly unique dish: candied sweet potatoes! My grandma used to make them the old-fashioned way - piled high with delicious, gooey marshmallows! Mmmm, marshmallows . . . I was a picky eater as a kid, but even I couldn't turn my nose at a vegetable that tasted like dessert.

What is a sweet potato, anyway? Turns out it's not a potato at all. It isn't closely related to white or yellow potatoes, the kind you mash up for Thanksgiving or deep fry and salt for, well, for just about any other day. Sweet potatoes also aren't closely related to yams, another tuber grown mostly in Southeast Asia. (What many people call candied yams are almost always in reality candied sweet potatoes.)

In fact, the sweet potato's closest relative is (ready for this) the morning glory! (That doesn't mean you should go digging up your flower bed for nourishment - even close relatives of edible plants can be poisonous.)

If you've ever eaten a raw sweet potato (and I wouldn't recommend that, either), you know that the uncooked flesh isn't particularly sweet. The sweetness of the sweet potato comes from an unlikely place - science! It turns out there's an enzyme embedded in the sweet potato's flesh that causes a chemical change. The change results in the starch of the uncooked potato turning into a type of sugar called maltose. Here's the crazy part - the enzyme only kicks into high gear when the potato is being cooked! That's right - the more you cook it, the sweeter the sweet potato gets. Ah, technology!

No wonder we love it so, a vegetable that, with just a little added heat, turns into a sweet tooth's dream come true. And it's even good for you (OK, maybe not the marshmallow part, but the potato itself is loaded with vitamins).

So push past that drumstick and even the green bean casserole (though I do adore those french fried onions). This year go for the sweet taste of science in that chemically-altered dish of deliciousness, candied sweet potatoes!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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