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Sweet potatoes require curing

by Debbie Archer Special to The Commercial | October 12, 2021 at 3:33 a.m.
Shaun Francis, UAPB Extension horticulture specialist, says curing sweet potatoes enhances their taste and shelf life. (Special to The Commercial/University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff)

A little patience will go a long way in enhancing the flavor of a sweet potato.

The reason, says Shaun Francis, Extension horticulture specialist for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, is that the sweet potato, despite its name, isn't all that sweet when it is harvested. Consequently, farmers should cure their crop for a period to bring out the taste and ensure a longer shelf life.

"Sweet potatoes remain metabolically active after they are harvested," Francis said. "As the tubers continue the respiration process, their starches are converted to sugars, hence the sweet taste. Curing improves this conversion process."

Another purpose of the curing process is to heal any abrasions or bruises the sweet potatoes sustain during harvesting, he said. As the potatoes cure, a corky layer of cells develops just below the surface of the abrasions, which serves as a barrier against disease-carrying organisms and protects against storage diseases.

The curing process can begin immediately after sweet potatoes are harvested. First, they should be removed from the field as soon as possible to prevent sun-scald damage.

"If you are harvesting during moist conditions, allow the soil around the roots to dry for an hour or two," Francis said. "Though you can remove excess soil around the roots, remember not to wash your freshly harvested potatoes."

Store the potatoes in a warm, humid room for four to seven days. Ideal conditions for curing are a temperature of 85-90 degrees and a relative humidity of 80-90%.

"As these conditions may be difficult to establish inside a household, consider using a shed at the farm or a garage," Francis said. "Some farmers can achieve the correct conditions for curing in a room with a space heater, thermostat and humidifier."

If the temperature decreases during the curing process, increase the number of days the sweet potatoes spend curing. If it is 80 degrees outside, let the potatoes cure for 10 to 14 days, he said.

Good ventilation is also an important factor in the curing process, as it can prevent a buildup of the carbon dioxide that is released by the tubers. The circulation of air also enables excess condensation to escape, which prevents rotting.

After sweet potatoes have been cured for the correct amount of time, they should be stored at a temperature of 55-60 degrees and a relative humidity of 85-90%, Francis said.

"Keep the storing conditions at a constant, as fluctuations will cause the deterioration of root quality," he said. "Low temperatures cause the potatoes to develop too tough a center, while high temperatures will cause the roots to sprout, shrivel and become pithy."

Francis said sweet potatoes stored in cool, constant conditions have a shelf life of up to several months.

For more information about sweet potato production or other horticulture topics, contact Shaun Francis at (870) 575-7224 or franciss@uapb.edu.

Debbie Archer is an Extensioncommunications associate at the UAPB School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences.

Print Headline: Sweet potato requires curing

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