Sweet Tater Tasting Notes

I am graced with friends who put up with my dorkiness. Wednesday night, with a couple of friends over for dinner, I held a sweet potato tasting. Yup, not a wine tasting, but a sweet potato tasting. I learned several things at this tasting: 1) I am not very good at describing flavors, and 2) Tasting is more fun with friends.

Red Wine Velvet at harvest

Violetta at harvest

Old Kentucky at harvest

Golden Sweet at harvest

Jen, my summer garden intern, holding a very naughty-looking Red Wine Velvet
When I told E, my husband, that I'd like to have a sweet potato tasting just so I could compare my impressions with those of someone else—I do want to be able to write about these yummy critters, after all—he worried that it would be pretentious. Perhaps our discussion would sound a little too much like this: I detect a certain appealing skunkiness . . . maybe a soupcon of delightfully damp newspaper . . . wait a minute, is that a bracing edge of burnt rubber? Don't get me wrong. I love wine. On occasion, I have been known to love wine a little too much, but we all know how ridiculous talking about it can sound. Yet, here I was, really wanting to hold a similar event, just so I could explain the awesomeness of homegrown sweet potatoes.

E played along in the way E will. You will see by his upcoming notes.

I roasted four very small sweet potatoes in their skins for the pre-dinner sweet potato tasting. After roasting, I cut them in quarters, sprinkled them with salt, and placed them in identical order on small plates with a pat of butter. I gave each person a card and we numbered the pieces by their placement on on the plates. I didn't tell the names of the varieties until we finished the tasting.

At the top of the hour, Golden Sweet; at 3, Old Kentucky; at 4, Violetta; and at 9, Red Wine Velvet.

Our notes
The first sweet potato we tasted was Golden Sweet, a golden-skinned, yellow-fleshed potato. It was not very productive—one potato per plant, but it did have lovely, smooth skin and a nice rounded shape. Upon tasting it, Friend #1 wrote, "Butternut squash, banana, tea, sweet but not too sweet." Friend #2 wrote, "Nutty, something like the aftertaste of salami." I wrote, "Smooth, nutty, sweet, mild." E wrote, "Tater." Though we all liked Golden Sweet, it wasn't the favorite of any of us.

The second sweet potato we tasted was Old Kentucky. Old Kentucky produces ugly, white-skinned, white-fleshed potatoes that discolor quickly; I harvested three tubers from each of my two plants. Friend #1 wrote after tasting it, "Candy, milder, not as distinctive a sweet potato flavor." Friend #2 wrote, "Smoother, almost sweeter." I wrote, "Sweeter than the first, yummy skin, gets caramelly tasting with roasting, more pronounced sweet potato flavor." (Fascinating—Friend #1 and I had very different perceptions on this potato.) E wrote, "Salty tater." We all agreed that this was a stand-out sweet potato, and it was E's favorite of the four.

Red Wine Velvet was the third sweet potato we tasted. For me, each plant produces four or five large, orange-fleshed, maroon-skinned potatoes that are shaped like veiny organs. About it, Friend #1 wrote, "Mild, nutty." Friend #2 wrote, "Smoky, earthy." I wrote, "I can taste the beta carotenes! Awesome, moist, smooth texture." E wrote, "Orange tater." This potato wins in the texture category, and it is mighty-fine tasting as well.

And finally, Violetta was the last sweet potato of the tasting. This variety produces large, violet-skinned and creamy-fleshed potatoes, at least three per plant. This was Friend #1's favorite. She wrote, "Creamy, mild, best aftertaste." Friend #2 wrote, "Walnut." I wrote, "Sweetest of the whites, caramelly." E, who loved Violetta last year, must have gotten a spoiled end, because he wrote, "Tater hairs." Despite E's reaction, the rest of us ranked this high.

The entire harvest this September
So, what does this mean? While I want to add another sweet potato to my collection (a purple-fleshed one, oh yes!), I will also likely drop one. Though homegrown Golden Sweet sweet potatoes are much better than anything one can buy in the store, the others are so good that I would rather use the room Golden Sweet would need to grow more of the other varieties.


Stefaneener said…
Do you have exceptional heat? I was under the impression that we couldn't grow them here -- just not enough hot. But oh, how I would love to try! I had a purple-fleshed sweet pot in Tennessee last year, and it was amazing. I've been looking for them since.

I love the variety of enthusiasm among your tasters. Sounds like a fun event.
Christina said…
Hi Stefaneener: I think you could try growing some. A great source of information about heirloom sweet potatoes is the Sand Hill catalog: http://www.sandhillpreservation.com/pages/sweetpotato_catalog.html The owner has some good recommendations about heat. I got Violetta through this company, and I like their ethic quite a bit.
Anonymous said…
Did you at least serve wine with the sweet potatoes?
"I am graced with friends who put up with my dorkiness." Well said, Christina. I think we all have our particular areas of geekdom, and it's wonderful when our friends indulge us.
Felicia said…
We planted one plant of sweet potatoes this year as an experiment and your post reminded me, shoot! I hadn't harvested them yet. Between being sick and the rain, I just hadn't gotten around to it.

I pulled up a motley twisted group of roots, but so lovely to look at. And prolific. Little late to try curing them for long storage so I'm going to make some SP empanadas and mash for freezing.

Ordered a catalog from sandhill. Def going to dedicate a larger patch for them in 2012.
Christina said…
AH: Of course, plenty of it.

Terry B.: Thank you! I love the geekery you display regularly on your site--such good food! Such a curious cook!

Felicia: Curing does help to sweeten them up a bit though--here, we put them in a box next to E's mega-computer for a couple weeks to stay warm, which is what they need while curing. Yum, sweet potato empanadas sound fantastic! I hope you enjoy the harvest!
Zora said…
Dorkiness I can get behind! A good plan, if only to isolate what it is we really like about sweet potatoes. I'd love to taste all of these.
Lisa said…
Fascinating! I've recently developed allergies to the entire nightshade family, so I'm eating a lot more sweet potatoes.

I'd love to do a sweet potato tasting...

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