Sweet potatoes have definitely gone mainstream. They used to be more of a Southern thing, except for their annual Thankgiving appearance with melted marshmallows on top.
But now they're one of the latest side dishes at the fast food giant Wendy's 6,000-plus restaurants.
Sweet potatoes got a boost during the low-carb fad, when dieters learned that these orange tubers are lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes. And, they contain lots of beta-carotene as well. Some steakhouses (such as the Texas Roadhouse chain) serve baked sweet potatoes along with the usual baked russet potatoes.
A few years ago, sweet potato fries caught on in Utah. They showed up on menus as far-ranging as Arctic Circle, the MacCool's pubs, Crown Burger, Blue Lemon, The Bayou, and Gracie's. But, the low-carb "healthy halo" doesn't quite cancel out the fat and calories of deep-drying.
Enter Wendy's new Baked Sweet Potatoes side dish. Yes, they're a baked potato, not cut in strips like fries. But if you want a healthier option at a fast food restaurant, this is probably it. A buttery cinnamon spread is served on the side, so you can add just a little or a lot, or none at all.
Wendy's two other new "signature" side dishes aren't as health conscious — macaroni & cheese and chili cheese fries.
The recommended price for each of these sides is $2.49 each. The macaroni and cheese and baked sweet potatoes will be available for a limited time, but the chili cheese fries are a permanent menu addition, according to quick-service chain.
Wendy's said its sweet potatoes are U.S.-grown. That's good news for American farmers. North Carolina is the leading state in sweet potato production, followed by California, Louisiana and Mississippi.