Sweet potatoes can be difficult to cut when they are raw and firm. However, there are a few simple tricks you can use to soften sweet potatoes and make them easier to slice and dice for cooking. Keep reading to learn some of the best methods for softening sweet potatoes before cutting them.
Why Do You Need to Soften Sweet Potatoes Before Cutting?
Fresh, raw sweet potatoes tend to be very dense and firm. Their tough flesh can make them challenging to cut, even with a very sharp knife. If you try to cut or slice an uncooked sweet potato, you’ll likely end up with uneven, ragged cuts instead of clean, precise ones.
There are a few reasons why raw sweet potatoes are so hard and difficult to cut cleanly:
- High starch content – Sweet potatoes contain a lot of starch, which gives them their characteristic firmness.
- Dense, fibrous flesh – The interior of a sweet potato has a dense, fibrous texture that is resistant to cutting.
- Hard outer skin – A sweet potato’s skin can be quite tough and adds an extra challenge when slicing.
Cutting hard, raw sweet potatoes can also be dangerous. The dense flesh and skin pushes back against the knife blade, requiring a lot of force. This can lead to slips and cuts on your fingers and hands if you’re not extremely careful.
One of the quickest and easiest ways to soften a sweet potato before cutting it is to microwave it. Microwaving uses targeted heat to break down the potato’s fibers and make it pliable. Here is a simple microwaving technique:
- Wash the sweet potato and prick it several times with a fork. This allows steam to escape and prevents the potato from exploding in the microwave.
- Microwave the potato on high power for 2-5 minutes, until it is heated through and slightly softened. Check frequently and turn as needed.
- Remove the potato from the microwave using oven mitts. It will be hot! Allow it to cool slightly so you can handle it.
- Once cool enough to touch, the sweet potato should cut much more easily. Try slicing it in half lengthwise – it should cut smoothly with gentle pressure from a sharp knife.
The exact microwaving time needed depends on the size of your potato, its initial firmness, and the wattage of your microwave. Whole small to medium sweet potatoes usually take 2-4 minutes. Cut the microwaving time in half for larger potatoes.
Benefits of Microwaving to Soften
- Extremely quick and easy
- Breaks down fibers throughout the potato, not just the surface
- No extra tools or equipment needed
- Can be done right before cutting; no waiting for potato to cool
Downsides of Microwaving
- Can cook the potato and alter the texture if done too long
- Only softens one potato at a time
- Requires caution when removing hot potato
Boiling whole sweet potatoes in water is an easy way to soften multiple potatoes at once. The moist heat penetrates deep into the potatoes to relax their fibers. Here is a simple boiling technique:
- Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly and prick them with a fork 2-3 times.
- Place them in a large pot and cover with cold water. Water should cover potatoes by 1 inch.
- Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Then reduce to a simmer.
- Simmer the potatoes for 15-20 minutes, until a fork slides easily into the center.
- Drain the potatoes and allow them to cool until safe to handle.
- Once cooled, the sweet potatoes should slice smoothly and easily.
The exact boiling time can vary based on the size of your sweet potatoes. Check doneness after 15 minutes. They are ready when a fork meets little resistance in the potato’s center.
Benefits of Boiling to Soften
- Can soften multiple sweet potatoes at once
- Requires only water and a pot you likely already own
- Allows potatoes to cool in water; no added steps
- Breaks down fibers throughout the potato
Downsides of Boiling
- Takes more time than microwaving
- Can dilute potato flavor somewhat into cooking water
- Not ideal if you need just one softened potato
- Requires watching pot and monitoring timing
Like boiling, steaming uses moist heat to soften sweet potatoes. But because steam surrounds the potatoes, rather than immersing them in water, it helps retain more nutrients and flavor. Here is a simple steaming method:
- Wash sweet potatoes and prick skins. Leave whole.
- Place potatoes in a steamer basket or colander. Set over a pot with 1-2 inches of boiling water.
- Cover pot and steam potatoes for 18-22 minutes, until fork-tender.
- Carefully remove potatoes and allow to cool until safe to handle.
- Once cooled, the sweet potatoes should be soft enough to slice easily.
Check for doneness around 18 minutes. The steaming time can vary based on your equipment, altitude, and potato size.
Benefits of Steaming to Soften
- Retains nutrients better than boiling
- Can steam multiple potatoes at once
- Shorter cook time than boiling
- Sweet potato flavor remains concentrated
Downsides of Steaming
- Requires a steamer basket or equipment
- Takes longer than microwaving
- Need to monitor water level and timing
- Condensation can make handling potatoes tricky
Baking whole sweet potatoes in the oven is another excellent way to soften them before cutting. The dry, surrounding heat tenderizes the flesh. Here is a simple baking method:
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Wash potatoes and prick skins with fork 2-3 times.
- Place directly on oven rack or on a baking sheet.
- Bake for 45-60 minutes, until very soft when squeezed.
- Carefully remove from oven and allow to cool.
- Once cooled, sweet potatoes should slice with ease.
Check for doneness after 45 minutes. Bake times vary based on potato size. The potatoes are ready when very soft and collapsing slightly.
Benefits of Baking to Soften
- Dry heat helps concentrate sweet potato flavor
- Oven space allows multiple potatoes at once
- Minimal hands-on time required
- Also heats potatoes for easier scooping of flesh
Downsides of Baking
- Longer time commitment than other methods
- Oven needs preheating
- Can dry out potato surface slightly
- Potatoes take longer to cool after removing from oven
Using a Sweet Potato Softener Tool
There are also special tools made just for softening sweet potatoes before cutting them. One popular example is the Prepworks Sweet Potato Softener by Progressive International.
To use this tool:
- Wash and dry sweet potato.
- Place into softening chamber and fill with water to fill line.
- Microwave on high for 5 minutes for 1 large potato.
- Remove from microwave carefully using tongs or mitts.
- Drain water and remove softened sweet potato.
- Allow to cool slightly before slicing.
The circulating hot water penetrates and softens the sweet potato, making it easier to cut. Follow package directions for recommended times based on potato size and microwave wattage.
Benefits of Using a Sweet Potato Softener
- Designed specifically for the task
- Softens quickly in the microwave
- Minimizes risk of burning
- Catches any condensation
Downsides of Using a Sweet Potato Softener
- Requires purchasing specialized tool
- Bulky item to store in kitchen
- Can only soften 1-2 potatoes at a time
- Some models might leak or drip water
Storing Softened Sweet Potatoes
Once your sweet potatoes are softened using any of these methods, you can store them in the fridge for 1-2 days until you are ready to cut them. To store softened sweet potatoes:
- Allow potatoes to cool completely after cooking.
- Place in an airtight container or plastic freezer bag.
- Press out excess air and seal the container/bag.
- Refrigerate for up to 2 days.
The softened sweet potatoes will continue “curing” in the fridge, becoming even easier to slice once chilled. Refrigeration also prevents any browning or spoilage before cutting.
Tips for Cutting Softened Sweet Potatoes
Once your sweet potatoes are softened, here are some tips for cutting them cleanly and precisely:
- Use a sharp chef’s knife or serrated blade for easiest cutting.
- Work on a clean, dry, and stable cutting board.
- Slice potatoes lengthwise first to create flat, stable surfaces before dicing.
- Remove skin after cooking for easier slicing; leave on if desired.
- Make thin, even cuts in long motions using your arm strength.
- Rinse knife blade periodically if slices start sticking.
- Chill sliced sweet potatoes until ready to cook or serve.
Recommended Uses for Softened, Cut Sweet Potatoes
Pre-softening and cutting sweet potatoes allows you to use them in more recipes. Here are some of the best ways to use your sliced or diced softened sweet potatoes:
- Roasted: Toss with oil, seasonings, and roast in the oven.
- Sautéed: Cook in oil or butter over medium-high heat.
- Added to soups and stews: Add cubes or slices to broth-based dishes.
- Made into fries: Cut into strips or wedges and bake or fry.
- Added to casseroles: Mix into dishes like sweet potato casserole.
- Puréed: Blend or mash with seasonings to make sweet potato purée.
Many recipes call for cubed, sliced, diced or mashed sweet potato. Softening the potatoes first gives you perfect, uniform cuts ready to be cooked any way you desire.
Cutting uncooked sweet potatoes can be difficult and even dangerous due to their hard, dense flesh. Taking the time to soften sweet potatoes using methods like microwaving, boiling, steaming, or baking allows you to cut them with ease and precision. The result is perfect sweet potato slices, cubes, and dices ready to cook however you please. Just be sure to allow your microwaved or cooked potatoes to cool completely before handling and cutting. With softened sweet potatoes, you’ll be ready to make soups, stews, fries, casseroles, purées, and more.