California ranks fourth in areas planted with sweet potatoes with about 11,500 acres, and third in production with about 4.5 million 40-lb. boxes. Over 80% of California sweet potato and yam production is in Merced County, geographically located in the center of the state in the most productive agricultural area in the world – the San Joaquin Valley. In Merced County, the crop has a farm gate value of more than $45 million.
California grows many types of sweet potatoes and yams, however, consumers can typically find three kinds in the supermarkets:
Golden Sweet or O'Henry... A dry flesh potato with a mild, nutty flavor, yellow to cream colored on the inside with light brown skin. Excellent in casseroles, side dishes or simply baked and served as an alternative to either sweet orange types or a plain Irish Potato.
Beauregard or Covington... This is the number one selling sweet potato in the California and United States. Bright orange, moist and sweet on the inside, copper colored on the outside. Excellent for baking, casseroles, roasting or simply by themselves.
Diane or Red Yams... Extra moist and flavorful, these potatoes are orange on the inside with red copper to plum colored skin. The Garnet is the premium red yam and well worth the extra money if it is available. Best baked in the skin and served with butter, these sweet potatoes also do well in pies, cakes and breads.
Though small in acreage, another important California grown sweet potato, the Japanese or Oriental Sweet Potato, is available in some California Farmer's Markets. This variety is red on the outside, with a dry white flesh and a very mild flavor.