We gardeners claim lots of reasons for our obsession hobby. There’s the exercise and sunlight (never mind all those times we’ve hurried to finish a garden task in bad weather). There are bragging rights and the pride of feeding ourselves and others with something we grew in our own garden. And, of course, there’s the desire to have more control over what we eat; no GMOs or chemicals or half-dead produce shipped from halfway around the world.

But, tops of the list of reasons to garden is taste.

Home-grown food tastes better than store-bought. It’s a fact. Irrefutable. Undeniable.

But, um, is it? Honestly, I’ve never checked. Have you? No?

Let’s do something about that!

Because it’s winter, and the options for gardening are limited, and I’m wondering about how home-grown food compares to store-bought food, I’m hereby launching an occasional series for the blog: Home-Grown vs Store-Bought.

As opportunity and curiosity dictate, I’ll compare produce from my own garden with approximately equivalent produce from various grocery stores and other markets. I’ll pay attention to taste, as well as texture, color and other relevant cues. I won’t be doing anything overly scientific, such as measuring nutrients or setting up double-blind trials with volunteers. Mostly, I’ll be doing this in my kitchen. Sometimes I’ll invite friends over to help sample the competition. Other times, it may be just me and my dog serving as judges.

To kick things off, let’s taste some sweet potatoes!

Why sweet potatoes? Well, if you haven’t noticed, it’s January. There’s not much growing in my garden at the moment. But, there are about 30-40 pounds of sweet potatoes lounging in my guest room closet. So, we start with what I have on hand.

I picked up one sweet potato from my local Wegmans grocery store. Wanting to be fair, I looked for a nice tuber with no sunken or bad spots. I would have preferred organic, but had to settle for non-organic.

Then, I came home and selected a sweet potato from my stash that was about the same size and shape. One guess as to which one is home-grown:

Once cleaned up, it’s actually a little difficult to tell the two apart.

But, there are differences to be seen. The home-grown tuber is a bit darker in color. I’m not sure if this is a home-grown vs store-bought difference, or a variety difference (though, I suspect they are the same variety).

The store-bought sweet was also a little wrinkled at the ends, while the home-grown sweet is wrinkle-free.

There are also sprouts on the home-grown sweet. None on the store-bought sweet:

I also weighed them.

A 15-gram difference between the two sweets, with the store-bought sweet (on the right) just barely out-weighing the home-grown one. That’s not a big difference. One quarter, two dimes and two pennies add up to the same weight. Not a big enough difference to affect cooking, I figure.

That’s important because for the taste test, I decided to roast both sweets in the same pan. I want them to both cook at the same rate. That’s the home-grown sweet on the right, and the store-bought sweet potato on the left.

comparing home-grown and store-bought sweet potatoes for taste, color and texture

After about 45 minutes in a 375° oven, I pulled them out.

comparing home-grown and store-bought sweet potatoes for taste, color and texture

Just by looking at them, I’d guess the home-grown sweet (on the right) would be more tender. It’s skin is a bit more wrinkled, and it oozed out a bit of the sugary liquid that sweets like to spill while roasting in the oven. None of this from the store-bought tuber.

So, I cut them open.

comparing home-grown and store-bought sweet potatoes for taste, color and texture

Yep. The home-grown tuber (right) looks a bit moister and more thoroughly cooked than the store-bought sweet. It’s also a bit richer in color, though that’s hard to tell in the photograph.

I mashed both up with my fork (giving the skins to my sweet-potato-lovin’ dog), and tasted them.

comparing home-grown and store-bought sweet potatoes for taste, color and texture

Home-grown won.

Not a huge difference in flavor between the two, although the home-grown did have a slightly sweeter taste to it. The biggest difference was definitely the texture. The store-bought tuber was drier, firmer and a bit stringy, while the home-grown sweet was string-free with moist and tender flesh.Yum!

comparing home-grown and store-bought sweet potatoes for taste, color and texture

Does this mean all home-grown sweet potatoes will beat store-bought sweets in a taste test? No way to know; I love sweets, but I’m not eating the quantities I’d need to in order to really test that theory. For now, I accept that my sweets are moister, more tender and a bit sweeter than their store-bought counterparts.

Plus, in this case at least, home-grown is decidedly cheaper more economical. I grew 67.8 pounds of sweet potatoes with the slips I started from just two tubers last spring. That’s a pretty decent rate of return.

It’ll be a while before I can compare tomatoes and peppers and sweet corn, but I do have a jar of home-grown popcorn on the shelf. Maybe that’ll be the star of the next Home-Grown vs. Store-Bought competition.

Have you ever compared your home-grown produce with store-bought? Were you surprised by the results?

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