We’ve had a love/hate relationship with potatoes, the most common starchy root vegetable, for hundreds of years. The Incas began cultivating potatoes as early as 500 B.C. They hid potatoes for times of famine or war and even packed potatoes with their dead. In the 16th century, Spanish explorers took potatoes back to Spain instead of the gold they had hoped to find. In the 17th century, most Europeans thought potatoes were toxic and several countries even banned them. But the use of the potato slowly spread as farmers realized it was an easy, reliable crop to grow. Today, Americans consume more than 125 pounds of potatoes each and French fries are the most common vegetable.
But potatoes aren’t the only starchy vegetable. Starchy vegetables fall into two categories — root vegetables and winter squash. Most starchy vegetables need a long, warm growing season and plenty of sun. Some taste better after they’ve been nipped by frost. They also store well for months on end in a cool, dry place.
Starchy vegetables, as the name implies, contain starch and sugar. Much like a grain, they provide energy and can sustain life. However, if you’re trying to lose weight, you should watch your starchy vegetable consumption. Potatoes, especially, cause a spike in blood sugar which leaves you hungry and craving more sugar and carbs. Potatoes are also usually prepared with a lot of butter, oil, sour cream and salt, adding to their calorie load.
Save potatoes as an occasional indulgence, and opt for more healthful starchy vegetables on a regular basis. Orange starchy vegetables, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and winter squash, are great sources of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber and beta carotene, which has been shown to reduce your risk of certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and even infertility. Read on to learn more about starchy vegetables:
Carrot. One carrot provides a full day’s supply of vitamin A. One of the easiest root vegetables to grow, carrots can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one month. Cut off the greens before you store them.
Jicama. This tropical root vegetable resembles a large turnip. It has little starch, but lots of flavor and crunch. Add it raw to salads or serve it with crudités.
Parsnip. Parsnips look like long white carrots, but taste more like a potato. In the garden, they prefer cool temperatures and may take as long as a year to grow.
Potato. Hundreds of varieties of potatoes exist—all of them delicious! Potatoes belong to the nightshade family and while the roots are edible, the leaves and stems are toxic.
Pumpkin. If you plant one winter squash in your garden, make it pumpkin. Nothing says fall like these bright orange globes. To use pumpkin, roast or steam it. Puree it and add it to muffins, soups and casseroles.
Radish. Children often grow radishes as a first gardening experience because they grow so quickly and easily.
Rutabaga. Rutabagas belong to the cruciferous vegetable family, which includes broccoli and cauliflower. Similar to turnips, they’re larger and have yellow to orange flesh. Eat them raw with dip, mash them, or roast them and drizzle with maple syrup.
Salsify. Related to parsnips, salsify is sometimes called “oyster plant” and descriptions of its flavor range from oyster to asparagus to artichoke.
Scorzonera. This interesting root has a black skin and white flesh. It resembles a long carrot and is sometimes called “black salsify” or “Spanish salsify.”
Sweet potato. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of beta carotene and fiber. Store them in a dry, dark location at room temperature and use them within a week. There are two different kinds: one with white flesh and one with orange.
Turnip. Turnips are seldom seen at today’s dinner tables, but 100 years ago, they were common. Serve this hearty peasant food mashed or boiled, with a dollop of butter and some salt and pepper. In the garden, turnips prefer cool weather and make a good spring crop.
Winter Squash. Winter squash are the marathoners of the vegetable garden, needing 90 to 120 days to ripen. But, they pack a nutritional wallop since they’re loaded with vitamin A and beta carotene. Store winter squash in a cool, dark, dry place for up to six months.
Yam. Often confused with sweet potatoes, yams are longer and more cylindrical with a rough, scaly skin. Use them as you would a sweet potato.
Storage of Home Grown Root Vegetables from Colorado State University Extension
Growing Carrots and Other Root Vegetables in the Home Garden from University of Minnesota Extension.