Candied sweet potatoes – dripping with butter, brown sugar and pecans – or a casserole of mashed sweet potatoes smothered with toasted marshmallows are common sides on the Thanksgiving table. These rich dishes belie the true nature of sweet potatoes, which are nutrient packed, low-glycemic root vegetables that can be a part of a healthy diet year round.
Research by UC Cooperative Extension advisor Scott Stoddard is aimed at making sweet potatoes an even more healthful and attractive food. Stoddard is working with sweet potato growers in Merced County to see if sweet potatoes with dusky purple skin and vibrant purple flesh, called purple/purples, can be grown by more farmers in California. The unusual color and health benefits command a higher price, opening a potentially profitable niche market.
“Purple flesh sweet potatoes have beta-carotene, like the more common orange varieties, plus anthocyanins,” Stoddard said. “It's like eating a handful of blueberries with your sweet potato.”
California is a significant producer of sweet potatoes. About 80 percent of the California crop – 16,000 acres – is grown in Merced County, on farms ranging from 5 acres up to several thousand acres. In 2015, the crop's value in Merced County was $195 million. About 1,000 acres are grown in Kern County and 2,000 acres in Stanislaus County. These locations have the sandy and sandy-loam soils ideal for sweet potatoes to develop their distinctive shape and smooth skin.
Sweet potatoes with purple flesh are not common, but they have been around for quite some time. They are the main type of sweet potato grown in Hawaii, for example. Several years ago, growers in Stokes County, N.C., selected a particularly beautiful and tasty cultivar, naming it the Stokes Sweet Potato and marketing nationwide with Frieda's Specialty Produce. In California, A. V. Thomas Produce in Livingston acquired an exclusive agreement with the company to grow and market Stokes purple/purple sweet potatoes.
“The number of acres of Stokes has really expanded in just a few years,” Stoddard said. "There is a lot of consumer interest in purple-fleshed sweet potatoes."
That doesn't close the door on purple/purples for California's other growers interested in the niche. Stoddard conducts field trials in cooperation with local farmers that include purple/purples. In one trial, 50 types of sweet potatoes of many different colors are being grown to determine whether they have key characteristics needed for local production. From there, he selects a limited number to grow in replicated trials, to determine their potential to produce a high yield, store well, and develop good size, shape, color and flavor. Of these, only one purple/purple made it into the replicated trial.
“In some purple/purples, the flavor can be off, or bitter,” Stoddard said. “We get rid of those right away.”
One of the cultivars in Stoddard's study, which goes by the experimental code number L-14-15-P, was bred in 2014 by Don La Bonte, a plant breeder at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge. The potato has some good attributes, but lacks the uniform deep purple color of the Stokes variety.
“Unfortunately, it's probably not good enough to displace Stokes,” Stoddard said. “It's a good start, but we have to continue screening purple/purples to find a variety that offers disease resistance, good yield, and consistent deep purple flesh color."
Sweet potatoes can be eaten raw or cooked. To eat raw, simply peel, cut into sticks and serve with low-fat ranch dressing or apple sauce for dipping. Grate fresh, uncooked sweet potatoes and add to burritos or tacos or sprinkle on salads for a sweet, nutritious crunch.
Cooked sweet potatoes can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner, skin and all, plain or with a small pat of butter.
Microwaving is a great way to quickly prepare the vegetable. Wash potatoes and pat dry. Prick skin with a knife in 2 to 3 places. Cook on high for 5 minutes. Turn over. Then cook for another 5 minutes, more or less.
UC Cooperative Extension's sweet potato expert Scott Stoddard says he prefers his sweet potatoes baked.
“Baked is way better,” he said. “Baking gives time to convert to starch to maltose.”
Sweet potatoes are mostly starch, but have a special enzyme that breaks down starch into maltose when cooking. Slower cooking in the oven provides time for the conversion, imparting a subtly sweet caramelized flavor.
To bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the lower oven rack with foil, then prick sweet potatoes with a fork and place directly on the middle oven rack, above the rack with foil. Bake 45 minutes for sweet potatoes 2 to 3 inches in diameter.
On Nov. 28, UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources will participate in #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving powered by our social networks. Celebrated on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, #GivingTuesday kicks off the charitable season.
Although not as well-known as the shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday appeals to people who are swept up in the spirit of giving at the end of the year. Participants post “unselfies” on social media, as opposed to selfies, stating why they donate. By posting these photos on social media about why they give on #GivingTuesday, donors and volunteers celebrate and encourage giving.
Anyone can post an “unselfie.” Simply visit ucanr.edu/givingtuesday, download and print an unselfie sign that says, “I #UNselfie for ____ #GivingTuesday,” “Together, we can reach for California's greatest potential on this #GivingTuesday” and “I'm donating to UCANR this #GivingTuesday because…” Participants can hold the sign below their face and snap an unselfie to post on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and other social media with the hashtags #GivingTuesday and #UCANReach.
For UC ANR, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to raise funds for UC Cooperative Extension county programs, research and extension centers and statewide programs. As a result of the ongoing effects of the drought, recent wildfires and persistent pockets of poverty, California's needs in the coming year will be great, and year-end giving presents an opportunity for donors to assist.
“UC Cooperative Extension professionals have a deep passion for their work and a dedication to the communities they serve,” said Glenda Humiston. University of California vice president for agriculture and natural resources. “While most deliver their research and programs quietly every day, it is especially incredible to witness their response to disaster; for example, recent wildfires saw local UCCE offices responding immediately with vital information for coping with the fires, care for livestock and pets, as well as service in food banks and other volunteer needs.”
In Sonoma County, as residents evacuated during the fires, UC Cooperative Extension staff and 4-H members helped rescue livestock. In Solano County, wildfire took the homes of 17 UC Master Gardener volunteers so the UC Master Gardener Program connected them with volunteers throughout the state who wanted to provide relief.
“UC Master Gardener volunteers are true to their generous nature and have offered tremendous support to fellow volunteers who have lost homes in the fires. With compassionate hearts, they have offered lodging, supplies and words of support,” said Missy Gable, UC Master Gardener Program director. “In the future, we will look to replant what was lost and find healing in the care and establishment of new landscapes and wild spaces.”
For UC ANR stakeholders, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity to support the many research and outreach programs that strengthen California communities each day and more importantly, during times of crisis.
“The value of the programs cannot be overstated,” Chico farmer Rory Crowley wrote in the Chico Enterprise-Record. “Agriculture is the main economic driver in Butte County, and it is extremely important to support our farmers and ranchers through these initiatives. This year we have a unique opportunity to give back to our Butte County researchers and agriculturists.”
Over $64,000 was raised on #GivingTuesday last year to support UC ANR programs including the 4-H Youth Development Program and UC Master Gardener Program.
“Last year, the 4-H Foundation recorded a 430 percent increase in donations over the previous fiscal year, raising over $30,000 in one day from 37 counties!” said Mary Ciricillo, director of annual giving for UC ANR. This was due in large part to a match challenge from an anonymous donor.
“This year, I'm excited to share that we will have two match challenge funds. One supporting the California 4-H Foundation and one for all UC ANR.” said Ciricillo.
Clicking "Make a Gift" at ucanr.edu/givingtuesday reveals links to all UC ANR programs, research and extension centers and UCCE offices so donors may designate the programs or locations to which they wish to donate.
“#GivingTuesday is a fun way for people to show their appreciation for the work their UC ANR friends do,” said Andrea Ambrose, acting director of UC ANR Development Services. “Take an #UNselfie with one of our signs and tell us, your family and friends what inspired you to donate. Remember to use the hashtags #UCANReach, #GivingTuesday and #unselfie!”
Last year UCANR, UC Master Gardeners and 4-H received 224 gifts and hope to surpass that number this year.
“What if, today, we were grateful for everything?” asks Charlie Brown.
You don't need to be a beloved cartoon character to understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. Giving thanks seems like an excellent goal for this year's celebration … and every day, really. Here are some important steps for a healthy, delicious and memorable holiday.
First, be safe Millions of Americans will be celebrating this Thanksgiving. Foodborne illness is a real concern. So, let's make sure everybody enjoys the meal and doesn't get ill.
From safely thawing a turkey to making sure it's properly cooked, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) offers a range of tips to keep your holiday safe. (One hint: take care with the stuffing). The USDA's famous Meat & Poultry Hotline will remain open on Thanksgiving Day until 11 a.m. PST; their team of experts is on hand to answer any questions you may have.
No, Thanksgiving feast would be complete without pie. Whether you're a sweet potato or pumpkin pie fan, good crust is essential. Making a good pie crust isn't rocket science...but it does involve molecular science. In this video, University of California researcher Amy Rowat uses science to show you how to make the best pie crust ever.
Second, savor the meal
Did you know that there's a science to eating? Before you pile lots of food on your plate, take time to consider these seven steps from University of California scientists and researchers; they will assure that you savor every bite of your meal.
Third, don't waste
Enjoy your meal, but make it a point to reduce food waste this holiday season.
“Food waste presents a major challenge in the United States. Estimates suggest that up to 40% of the food produced nationally never gets consumed, causing substantial economic and environmental harms. Wasted food utilizes vast quantities of precious land, water and human resources, yet rather than nourishing people, it feeds landfills, producing methane gasses that poison the environment. Much of the food waste (43%) occurs at the household level.”
We sought out experts from UC ANR's Master Food Preserver Program for advice on how to use leftovers. Some takeaways: refer to this food storage chart to determine how long you can safety store leftover food. For more tips, click here. Leftover turkey can be used to make a delicious homemade stock that can serve as the base for additional meals. We provide a recipe and information about how to safely preserve stock here.
However you celebrate Thanksgiving, the staff of UC ANR wishes you a safe, happy and healthy holiday.
Editor's Note: UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) researchers and educators draw on local expertise to conduct agricultural, environmental, economic, youth development and nutrition research that helps California thrive. We operate the 4-H, Master Gardener and Master Food Preserver Programs. We live where you live. Learn more here. Are you a #veteran or #beginning farmer interested in learning more about poultry production? UC ANR is co-hosting a series of poultry workshops beginning in December and throughout 2017. Get the details here.
Learn more about native and indigenous foods from Valerie Segrest of the Muckleshoot Tribe in the Pacific Northwest; the post appears on the UC Food Observer blog.
While Americans traditionally beat a path to the malls the day after Thanksgiving, many opt out of shopping on Black Friday to enjoy the outdoors. In regional parks and other open spaces, hikers may encounter crowds of a different sort – cattle grazing with their calves. A 1,200-pound cow blocking the path can be daunting.
With a little patience and understanding, people who hike, bike and horseback ride can coexist peacefully with the cattle, according to Sheila Barry, UC Cooperative Extension livestock and natural resources advisor in Santa Clara County.
For happier trails, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has produced a series of videos that show hikers how they can amicably share open space with their beefy neighbors. In a two-minute video, a black cow puppet with a furry white face describes how to politely coax cows to moo-ove aside without spurring a Black Friday stampede.
“We wanted to produce videos that are entertaining as well as informative,” Barry said.
The cow pun-filled video also describes the ecosystem services cattle provide by consuming nearly their body weight in plants. By grazing, cows manage the vegetation, reducing wildfire fuel, increasing water capture and promoting the diversity of native grasses and wildflowers.
In “Sharing open spaces with livestock,” the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources livestock experts give four simple tips for safely sharing open space with cows on the trail:
Keep moo-ving and speak in a normal tone. Sudden movements and loud noises may surprise cows.
Approach cows from the side or front. They find it udderly unnerving to have someone sneak up from behind, the bovine blind spot.
Steer clear of getting between a protective mother and her calf.
If you need to move a cow, step slowly into its flight zone. Invading the animal's “personal space” will motivate it to mosey aside.
When the weather cools in the fall and the holidays draw near, orange orbs ripen on persimmon trees in California to offer a fresh autumn sweetness in time for Thanksgiving recipes and holiday décor.
At the UC South Coast Research and Extension Center (SCREC) in Irvine, a collection of 53 persimmon varieties are at their peak in November when the public is invited for tasting and harvesting at the annual persimmon field day.
“We want to raise awareness about persimmons,” said Tammy Majcherek, SCREC community educator. “It's a beautiful tree and a great addition to any landscape. Persimmon trees provide shade in the summer, healthy fruit in the fall, then drop their leaves and allow the sun's warmth to come through in the winter. It's a win-win situation as far as landscape trees go.”
The persimmon collection came to the research center in the 1960s, when the late UCLA subtropical horticulture professor Art Schroeder arranged to move his collection of persimmon varieties to another venue because the pressure of urban development at the Westwood campus became too great.
Persimmons are native in two parts of the world, China and the United States. The Chinese persimmon made its way to Japan, where its popularity soared. The American persimmon comes from the Southeastern United States, however, most California persimmons trace their lineage to Asia.
California leads the nation in persimmon production, according to the California Department of Agriculture Crop Report, but with a value of about $21 million in 2012, it represents just a small fraction of the state's $19 billion 2012 tree fruit and nut value.
Nevertheless, to the visitors who came out to tour UC's collection at SCREC, persimmon is a choice fruit. Participants on the early-morning VIP tour received a large shopping bag to fill with various varieties of fuyu and hachiya persimmons. Fuyu are flat, yellow-orange fruit that can be eaten right off the tree like apples or allowed to mature to a super-sweet soft pulp. Hachiya are redder, heart-shaped and astringent when not fully ripened. “If you bite it, it will bite your mouth right back,” said one participant.
However, after ripening to a jelly soft pulp or dried, the hachiya is equally delicious.
Shirley Salado, the UC Cooperative Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program supervisor in San Diego County, attended the persimmon tasting to gather fruit and information for her education program.
“The fuyu is great to eat,” Salado said. “When they ripen and become very soft, you can put the pulp in a blender and then freeze in zipper bags to add to healthy smoothies.”
Salado collected two large bags of persimmons to share with her nutrition education staff.
“Not everybody knows about these,” Salado said. “This gives them a chance to look at the fruit. This is what we promote.”
Following the tour, coordinator of the UC Master Food Preserver program at SCREC Cinda Webb demonstrated safe consumption by making cinnamon persimmon jam, dried persimmon chips, and a gourmet persimmon, basil, beet and rice salad.
Wild or brown rice persimmon salad
4 cups wild or brown rice, cooked 2 Fuyu persimmons, chopped 1 cup cooked, chopped beets 1 cup basic, chopped 8 oz feta cheese ½ cup orange cumin vinaigrette
Vinaigrette (makes about 1 cup)
½ cup orange juice ¼ cup olive oil 2 tsp rice vinegar 1 Tbsp maple syrup 1½ tsp cumin 1 tsp coriander ½ tsp salt
Whisk together vinaigrette dressing ingredients
Stir basil, beets, persimmons and feta into rice and toss with ½ cup vinaigrette.
Top with persimmon slices and extra chopped basil for presentation.