Candied Sweet Potatoes

Japanese sweet potatoes.  The ones with color purple skin and slightly yellow flesh.  They’re sweet and unlike American sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes were one of the basic staples we had when I was growing up in a very poor farming family.

If I were to choose of all the crops we planted, harvested and consumed, I’d pick sweet potatoes any day.  When there’s nothing else to eat, we ate sweet potatoes for breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinner.  We typically just boiled the sweet potatoes, still in their skins.  Peeled just before eating them.  Once in a while, we’d cook sweet potatoes – peeled, in coconut milk with a pinch of sea salt.  And if we’re lucky.  Mom would add brown sugar to them.

Sweet potatoes must be cooked just right.  A child must be able to run around with a piece of sweet potato in his hand, chomping and playing at the same time.

At a young, tender age of 8 or 9, I remember planting and harvesting sweet potatoes on weekends and during summer.  Back then, planting and harvesting was fun, on sunny days, as long as I was accompanied with my brothers and cousins.

We’d have a competition as to who could plant the most. Finish a row faster than anyone else.

Usually the land has already been weeded by our dad.  Or us by several days before.  So all we had to do is plant the sweet potato vines.  Which usually involved stabbing the soil one or two times with the bolo knife.  Lifting the soil upward and quickly burying three or four sweet potato vines.  And let the soil rest over the vines.   Covering it up with the soil to protect it from the heavy rain.

And they have to be planted two feet apart, per row.

The sweet potatoes that we cultivated were the Japanese sweet potato varieties.  Of course back then, I didn’t know any other type of sweet potatoes.  We did not even call them Japanese sweet potatoes.   They were simply sweet potatoes.  The only kind we planted and ate.

Once in a blue while and for some odd reason, we’d encounter a few pieces of the Okinawan sweet potatoes:  white skinned with purple flesh.  These type, white skinned and purple flesh, were sweeter than the Japanese kind – red skinned and slightly yellow flesh.  And we usually fight over them.

And then, we’d also encounter the American sweet potato variety.  Which we called wild sweet potato.  Bland, unsweet, and watery.  They’re usually orange skinned with orange colored flesh.   Which is unlike the Japanese and Okinawan variety.

When we dug a few of these, we usually leave them in the field for the birds to eat.

Imagine my surprise when I came to the U.S. and the only sweet potatoes I could find in most supermarkets were the ones we called wild.  We did not eat this type of sweet potatoes.

Occasionally, I would find Japanese sweet potatoes at Asian markets.  But, boy! They’re expensive.  Four times the price of American sweet potatoes.

Now I understand why most Americans add sugar, maple syrup or corn syrup  to these kind of sweet potatoes.  Because American sweet potatoes, by themselves are not appetizing.  Bland, unsweet, watery and mushy.  I would never eat them just  plain boiled or baked.  Without brown sugar or maple syrup drizzled over them.  Unless of course the world has ended and that’s the only left on earth for us to eat.


This past several years, every Thanksgiving, I have had the tradition of making Candied Sweet Potatoes as a side dish.  Using the American variety.  Though because of the brown sugar, maple syrup and marshmallows.  It can make a very nice, sweet dessert.  But of course it’s not a dessert not.  However, it compliments turkey or ham.

Here’s what you need…

Six medium large sweet potatoes.  Washed under cold running water.  And rubbed with olive oil.

Bake in a preheated oven at 400°F for 50 – 60 minutes.

This is how they looked once baked:  wrinkled skin and soft.  The skin should be easy to peel.

(I already started peeling them.  And then I realized I needed to take pictures…)

Chop them into chunks like these.  And place in a baking pan.

Since we were going to a friends house, and to avoid a lot of dirty dishes.  I used an all purpose aluminum pan. So much better.  Hassle free and one less thing I gotta wash.

The sweet stuff that give the sweet potatoes a special treatment.  These simple stuff make this sweet potatoes addictive.

OK… I know on the recipe I said to use coconut milk.  And I meant it.  But Wednesday, I made a mistake of using my only can of coconut milk in another dish I made.  Not realizing that I actually bought for this sweet potato dish.  So… I  had no choice but to go to the supermarket on Thanksgiving day to hunt for coconut milk.

There was only one supermarket open on Thanksgiving Day.  Other than Wal-Mart, which I didn’t even think about until after the fact.  That’s probably because I do NOT like to go to Wal-Mart unless I really have to.  So I went to H.E.B.  The closest supermarket.  I made it there only 40 minutes before they close at 1pm.  And to my luck… they didn’t have coconut milk.  They only had coconut cream.  So I had to be flexible and  make do.  I used the same amount of coconut creams + 1 TBSP. of coconut oil.  Which I had on hand.

The sauce.

In a small sauce pan, combine brown sugar, maple syrup, coconut milk.  Or in this case coconut cream+coconut oil.  Lemon zest and juice.

Stir the sauce over medium heat until brown sugar is dissolved.

The sauce should look like this picture.

Drizzle the sauce over the sweet potatoes.

Top it with miniature marshmallows.

And bake it in a preheated oven at 375°F for 20 minutes.  Until the sauce starts to bubble and the marshmallows start to brown.

Serve warm.

Or at room temperature.

Or cold.  Sometimes.  I like it cold.  When I’m eating it as a dessert in one of my weird moments…

Here is the recipe of this easy, simple, and delicious sweet potato dish.


6 large sweet potatoes

¼ cup or more olive oil – for rubbing the potatoes

The Sauce:

½ cup brown sugar

1/3 cup 100% maple syrup

6 TBSPs. coconut milk

Zest and juice of one lemon

1 ½ cups miniature marshmallows

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Wash sweet potatoes and pat them dry.

Place sweet potatoes on a heavy cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.

Rub olive oil all over them.

Bake sweet potatoes at 400°F for 50 – 60 minutes.  (The sweet potatoes should be tender, but not too mushy.)

Peel sweet potatoes, cut them in chunks and place them in a 9 x 13 glass baking dish or aluminum all purpose baking pan.

In the meantime, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F.

In a small sauce pan, combine brown sugar, maple syrup, zest and juice of one lemon, and coconut milk.

Heat over medium heat and stir until brown sugar is dissolved.

Drizzle sauce over the sweet potatoes and sprinkle the miniature marshmallows on top.

Bake sweet potatoes with the sauce at 375°F for 20 minutes.  Or until sauce is bubbly and the marshmallows start to brown.

Serve warm or cold.  A great side dish for during thanksgiving and holidays.

Tess’ Kitchen Secrets:

#1 – The SAUCE.  There’s something magical about brown sugar, maple syrup, coconut milk and lemon juice combined together.  And drizzled over the sweet potatoes.

#2 – A great way to tell when the sweet potatoes are cooked.  When juices start to ooze out of the potatoes and the skins are starting to wrinkle and loosen.  These are good signs that the sweet potatoes are cooked.

Enjoy and Happy Cooking!

Tess Harris

7 thoughts on “Candied Sweet Potatoes

  1. I strongly disagree with your assessment of American sweet potatoes versus Japanese ones. After moving to Japan to teach English, I almost wept with disappointment at the quality of sweet potatoes here (among many other vegetables). Pale and paltry, they are much less flavorful and I suspect they lack a great deal of the vitamins and nutrients that American sweet potatoes contain, given that they have the same density and cook in the same amount of time as their unhealthier counterparts: white potatoes. Rather than being lovely, beautifully colored, and dense, they are greyish, starchy, and bland. (Funnily enough, the first time I was given one, I was so shocked at the difference and sure that it had gone bad that I had to hide it in my suitcase until I was able to throw it away). I love sweet potatoes baked, or sometimes mashed with butter and a little salt to offset the sweetness. The reason that Americans sometimes, though certainly not always, add maple syrup or brown sugar to the potatoes is because these are key ingredients in beloved dishes. Would you say that every Japanese dish you add soy sauce to is bland? Certainly not. It’s just what the recipe calls for.
    Missing American Produce

  2. I’ve never had the candied sweet potatoes before. I actually like the ‘American’ kind, since that’s all I know of. I like mine baked, and seasoned with butter, salt, and pepper. When I had them down South, they added brown sugar or syrup to it. Thanks for your recipe. I’ll have to give it a try sometime. I like how sweet potatoes are ranked the best nutritious of all vegetables 🙂

    • Thanks Tess!

      You’re right about sweet potatoes in the south. They served it baked with butter, brown sugar and marshmallows. I usually it this way when we go out to eat, especially at Texas Roadhouse.

      And this recipe I posted here… I also like to eat it in place of dessert… 🙂

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Candied Sweet Potatoes « AmerAsian Home Cooking --

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