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Pour Me Some Sweet Potatoes

What’s your favorite way to eat sweet potatoes?

 I recently had the chance to ask people visiting the NC SweetPotato Commission booth at the North Carolina State Fair that very question. The top response was “baked with cinnamon and butter” followed by pie and casserole.  

 Now, what if I said you could drink sweet potatoes – would your answer change?

The farm-to-table movement is going from the plate to the glass.  Following the trend of chefs using local, in-season produce, mixologists are using fresh fruits and vegetables to create cocktails. 

I have to admit, I didn't know what a mixologist was before working with several across the state during a promotion of North Carolina sweet potatoes. A mixologist uses fresh ingredients to create cocktails, taking advantage of the natural flavors fresh ingredients offer. For example, instead of buying a bag of sweet potato puree, mixologists will make their own from scratch.

As Mark Weddle, mixologist for The Traveled Farmer in Greensboro, North Carolina, told me, cocktails are meant to be an experience.  You wouldn't order 10 identical steaks for your meal; cocktails are meant to be experienced the same way – savored, not overindulged.  The cocktail you sip with an appetizer should be different from the cocktail that accompanies your entree. Using fresh produce gives mixologists a chance to create a unique experiene in each glass. That experience changes with the seasons, keeping cocktails as farm-fresh as the food on your plate.

During the promotion, each mixologist created cocktails using sweet potatoes as an ingredient. From puree to shrub, juice to syrup, I was amazed at the variety of ways a sweet potato can be used. I thought a shrub was something you planted in front of your house. Now I know, in the cocktail world, a shrub is a vinegar-based drink made with fruit juice, sugar, and other ingredients.

Their use of sweet potatoes didn’t stop at an ingredient in the drink. The garnishes you can make with sweet potatoes just might put herbs to shame. Chips, matchsticks, fins, and roasted sweet potato cubes found their way from the side of the plate to top of the glass during this promotion.

The garnish that surprised me the most was sweet potato ice cubes.

You read that correctly – sweet potato ice cubes. After boiling sweet potatoes, Mark found himself with a pot of water leftover. Me, I see a pot of water. He saw ice cubes, which is why he is a mixologist and I’m not. The cubes are easy to make and a great way to cut down on food waste. He made them with water left from boiling purple sweet potatoes and the effect in the glass was eye-catching, as you can see in the photo I took of the Otono, created by Nicolas Daniels of Loft and Cellar in Charlotte, North Carolina, with sweet potato ice cubes added by Mark.  

sweet potato cocktail

What’s great about sweet potatoes is they are always available. So, 12 months of the year, you can raise your glass for a toast with sweet potatoes.

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