12 Ingredients That'll Take Sweet Potato Casserole To The Next Level

There are so many sweet potato recipes to choose from because this incredible vegetable is tasty, versatile, and wonderfully sweet and savory tasting. Sweet potatoes have all the comfort food qualities of potatoes, and yet are less stodgy. They also score lower on the glycemic index (GI) than potatoes. This means that although they are sweet, the sugar in a boiled sweet potato doesn't go into the bloodstream as fast. They are often a healthier option and they are packed with antioxidants. One dish that's a must to celebrate this root veggie has to be a sweet potato casserole. It's a classic to serve during the holidays, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Of course, you can enjoy it any time of year. The traditional topping for this dish is a layer of mini marshmallows that are browned and gooey. Bringing out the sweetness with sweet potatoes in a savory recipe just works. 

While you've got to love the classics, cooking is all about combining new culinary concepts, techniques, and ingredients. That way, you can elevate and enhance a dish that you know and love. You might want to turn the topping into a crunchy delight for this casserole or maybe you want to amplify the contrast in flavors with a salty addition. 

Don't just stick to the same recipe you've been making for years. Try some ingredients that'll take sweet potato casserole to the next level. You never know, you might come up with a new family favorite.

1. Pecans

Pecans are an incredible nut that is perfect to add to both main courses and desserts. So it's not surprising that they are perhaps the No. 1 ingredient that can elevate a sweet potato casserole that's often a mixture between the two. A sweet, crunchy pecan topping is beyond mouthwatering. You can chop the nuts roughly with a knife, or if you want smaller bits then the simplest way is to break them up in a food processor. Mix with softened butter and brown sugar, with a little salt and cinnamon. You can add extra dimensions to this basic pecan crunch if you like, such as adding a little rosemary. If you add flour to this mixture and spread it over the top, you'll create a streusel topping. Rub the ingredients together, minus the nuts, and then add the pecans and stir them into the crumbs. 

Bring warmth to the crumbled pecan top of a sweet potato casserole with crystallized ginger. Stir this into the crumbs with the nuts. There's no end of possibilities of what you can add, so get creative. For example, cinnamon works wonders with nuts and root veggies as it's such a cold-weather spice. If you don't want to go without marshmallows, then you can have both. Bake the casserole with the sugared pecans so that they caramelize and set. Add the fluffy marshmallow mix on top and bake the casserole once again.  

2. Maple syrup

You already know that maple syrup is the bomb with waffles and pancakes for breakfast. It's also glorious with a savory side of root vegetables, such as roasted maple carrots and sweet potato casserole. The sweetness of the syrup enhances the flavor of the sweet potatoes and there aren't any fancy instructions here. Just add a glug to the casserole. And if you want to keep this combo of ingredients going, you can also make sweet potato waffles. 

It's a great substitute for sugar for this type of casserole. And the taste gives the dish a lovely warmth when you're serving it over the holidays, especially around the festive season. You can mix maple syrup into the mashed-up sweet potatoes with butter, milk, nutmeg, and vanilla. Alternatively, add syrup to the topping instead. It'll sweeten marshmallow crème mixed with beaten egg whites so that you can a wonderful contrast between the topping and the main sweet potato layer. If you love maple syrup, then perhaps you'll want to add it to the filling and the top so that the distinct taste is highlighted. 

3. Meringue

If you love lemon meringue pie, then why not transfer that topping to a sweet potato casserole? You could keep the sweet potatoes in chunks and add some beets in there to elevate the root vegetable taste and texture. Making meringues is pretty straightforward. You can make meringue without sugar; simply beat egg whites with cream of tartar and salt. If you're looking to cut down on the sugar and forgo a marshmallow topping, then this is a way to get the same fluffy texture without too much sweetness. You might need a hand whisk at the very least to whip those egg whites into submission. Once you've got nice stiff peaks, spread the mixture over the sweet potatoes and bake in the oven. 

You can make meringue with just egg whites and salt, and if you're sold on the idea of maple syrup, then you can add this too. Beat the egg whites until they're nearly done before adding the syrup and add a little at a time. Continue whisking. Because the maple meringue doesn't take too long to bake, make sure the sweet potato filling is heated up and not straight out of the fridge or too cold. For a little crunchiness, put a layer of pecans underneath the meringue with butter, sugar, and flour for a sweet crumble. Bake the casserole without the meringue first, and then add peaks formed from egg whites and sugar to keep the sweetness going. 

4. Cornflakes

If you think about dishes like a plum crumble or a baked mac and cheese, what they have in common is a crunchy topping. A dish that's super soft, like a sweet potato casserole, is begging for a little crispy something-something on the top.  The contrast somehow makes the main part taste even better. Before you get started on making a crumble, you might want to reach for a cereal box. Well, cornflakes in particular. They add a light touch that gives just enough crunch. Combine the cornflakes with melted butter and sugar before topping the mashed sweet potatoes. You can also add nuts and raisins.

Pecans are a great choice to add to the cornflakes, and while you can make your casserole ahead of time, make the topping when you plan to add it to the dish. Only add it during the last third of the cooking time as the dense mashed vegetable is going to need way longer than the light and airy topping. Aside from the taste, another plus point for using cornflakes is that they're inexpensive and they are pretty easy to use as a topping: You just pour them out of a box. Make sure the butter is properly melted when you add it to the cereal; otherwise you'll end up with clumps and won't be able to mix the sugar and pecans in evenly. 

5. Cheese

You know how mouthwateringly delicious a cheesy potato casserole is, right? It's not a huge culinary leap to imagine that cheese might just be one of the ingredients that'll take sweet potato casserole to the next level. And you don't have to make it mild-tasting either. Sweet potatoes are pretty robust and have a lot of taste, so you could add some nutty Gruyère to the mashed vegetables. Elevate the flavor with butter, garlic, and thyme. Not cheesy enough? Make a crunchy topping and mix in some more of the grated cheese. Stick the dish under the broiler at the end of the cooking time so that the cheese browns and creates a marvelous melted cheese layer.

Feel free to use whatever cheese you like. Just make sure it's a good one for melting. A nice Swiss cheese works or a rich, creamy fontina. If you want the cheesy texture without the taste being too strong, then you can't go wrong with mozzarella. To accentuate this ingredient, you could also throw in pieces of ham, and mix in eggs, butter, and heavy cream for a smooth, silky, tasty dish. 

6. Cranberries

Cranberries remind everyone of Thanksgiving and the festive holidays. You can make sweet and tart cranberry sauce to serve up with roast turkey and all the trimmings. You might not have thought about adding this sweet, fruity ingredient to a sweet potato casserole, though. But the sweetness and sourness of the berries add a delicious twist. Make a marshmallow crème, mix it in with the sweet potato rather than spreading it over the top, and finish the casserole with a homemade crumble. Making a crumble is pretty straightforward: Rub butter, sugar, and flour together to make crumbs. Freeze this and add them to the top frozen. Scatter fresh cranberries over the top and bake. In the heat, the crumble will caramelize and the berries will become part of that gorgeous layer. Underneath, you've got a fluffy sweet potato filling. You can use dried cranberries, too.

Another option is to start with cranberry sauce. Spread this out in the casserole dish. Next are the sweet potatoes and whichever topping you prefer. You might want to make sure the sauce has whole berries in it so that it has some berry texture, not just one consistency like jelly. Digging into this dish and getting that extra surprise at the very bottom is wonderful. A third option is to mix fresh cranberries with the mashed sweet potatoes so that they are part of the filling. Add other topping ingredients like pecans in there, too.

7. Bacon

Bacon is one of those ingredients that elevates so many dishes. And it's certainly one that will give your sweet potato casserole a whole other level of moreishness. It's worthwhile to source a good sweet potato casserole with bacon recipe to turn into a family meal tradition. Keep it simple by adding cooked bacon bits to the top of your casserole. And what better way to enhance the salty taste of bacon than with the nuttiness of gruyère? Bacon and cheese combos need no introduction. 

You can also add bacon to the top with other ingredients such as toasted pecans. Make the topping crunchy and sweet, as well as salty, by adding sugar and melted butter. Finally, mix in flour and herbs. Thick-cut cooked bacon is going to stand out with this recipe. A variation on this is to use natural pecans, chopped up, and shake in cayenne pepper for a behind-the-scenes touch of heat. Smoked, center-cut bacon is perfect for giving a bold flavor to this dish. You can also use unsmoked bacon or pancetta which you can use in exactly the same way. Another option is to add cooked bacon to the sweet potato mix rather than pairing that with cheese, and add some tangy creaminess by mixing in sour cream. If you roast the sweet potatoes first, then you're going to get such a wonderfully rich, tasty dish. 

8. Bourbon

If you're making sweet potato casserole for Thanksgiving or during the festive holiday season, then you might want to make it a little more special. One of the best of the indulgent ingredients that'll take sweet potato casserole to the next level has to be bourbon. The smoky, complex flavor it brings to dishes is incredible. And while you may associate it with rich sauces to serve with meats, it gives sweet potato casserole a sophisticated depth that is nothing short of transformative. It takes sweet notes and turns them into a culinary harmony that is beautifully balanced. Mix the alcohol in with the mashed sweet potatoes, along with a little citrus hit with some orange juice. Cinnamon and nutmeg complement the rich warmth, too. A great topping for this bourbon sweet potato casserole is a candied pecan crumble with rosemary and cayenne pepper. 

Bourbon and bacon are a great pairing, so you could top your casserole with a bacon and pecan crumble. Or maybe you want to mix the two together in the filling. What's great about sweet potato casserole is that you can experiment with combining different ingredients in interesting ways to get the exact taste and texture you want. A few drops of vanilla extract, for example, is going to give the sweet bourbon mixture a creamy, fragrant element. You can add eggs and milk for richness, or choose to leave them out. 

9. Pineapple

You might imagine that pineapple wouldn't be an ingredient that would necessarily pair well with sweet potatoes, perhaps because they are both sweet. This is what's so great about cooking and trying new dishes. The fact is, it not only works but will take this classic dish to the next level. The sour taste of pineapple somehow lifts the sweetness of the potatoes and makes the whole dish taste infinitely better.  Mix small pieces of fresh pineapple into the sweet potato mash, with whatever other ingredients you want to add to that. Taste for sweetness and add a little extra sugar if need be. Both the vegetable and the fruit are sweet, but this sweetness does vary. You can still have a marshmallow topping and add crushed pineapple with the sweet potatoes. 

If you don't like this to taste like a dessert, then rather than sugar, you can always use coconut sugar for this dish. And spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg elevate the tropical taste of the fruit and add warmth to the mashed sweet potatoes. You can also use canned pineapple to make this dish easier to make. An attractive way to add fruit to this classic dish is to top the sweet potatoes with pineapple rings. Scatter on pecans and cranberries as well. You can use canned fruit for this, just put the rings on a kitchen towel first so that they aren't too juice-logged when you layer them on top. 

10. Breadcrumbs

Breadcrumbs are such a versatile ingredient. You can use them to coat a crispy chicken cutlet and when it comes to a quick and easy way to add crunch to a dish, you can't beat them. What's wonderful about breadcrumbs is that when they turn golden brown and start to toast they create a topping that's enjoyable to eat, especially with a dish like smooth mashed sweet potatoes. And even better, you can add other ingredients to them as well. Since gruyère and bacon are such a perfect pairing, it seems an obvious step to add the cheese and breadcrumbs to the top and scatter on the bacon once they've melted and browned. The crunchiness is dependent on the type of bread you use to make the crumbs and how thick the crumb topping is. Japanese panko, which is a lot drier than homemade breadcrumbs, creates an extra-crisp finish.

If you don't want to load up the casserole too much, then keep the toppings simple. Elevate panko with the sharp taste of Parmesan. Although this is a hard cheese, if it's grated finely enough it will melt, and flavor-wise it gives any dish an intense cheesiness. The saltiness is superb with the sweetness of the casserole. A herby element and paprika give the breadcrumbs a nice savory taste that complements the rest of the casserole. Combine panko with Parmesan and butter to create a cheesy, crumb top.

11. Apples

Apples are a fabulously fruity ingredient to pair with meats. A forkful of pork with some cracked pepper and applesauce is delicious. And the apple flavor plays well with turkey and other white meats. A lot of sweet potato recipes include sugar and cinnamon, and these two ingredients are also a match for apples. Use a crisp apple if you're adding it to a sweet potato casserole. You want it to still have some bite to it once it's cooked, or at least not have turned pulpy. Layer slices of peeled apple on the bottom of a casserole dish. Coat them in sugar and cinnamon, and mix in pecans. Spoon the mashed sweet potatoes on top, and a topping of your choice, such as breadcrumbs.

You could try roasting sweet potatoes and apples before combining them, then turning them into a mash. To bring out the sweetness, bake them with apple juice and honey.  Whether you want to create a layered dish with a distinct separation between the apples and sweet potatoes or incorporate them in the same pulpy filling is entirely up to you.

12. Sage

Fresh sage has an almost indescribable essence. It brings subtle citrus, earthy, and pine notes to a dish. It's reminiscent of roasted meats and certainly Thanksgiving and festive meals. In the United Kingdom, it's tradition to make sage and onion stuffing at Christmas to serve with roast turkey. It's also one of the most fantastic ingredients that'll take sweet potato casserole to the next level. A classic way to enjoy this herb is with a brown butter sage sauce. And it's this concept that you can include in the marshmallow topping of a casserole. Make a syrup with ground sage and combine it with a marshmallow mixture and brown sugar. Can you stop for a moment to appreciate how awesome this is going to taste? Add brown sage butter to the sweet potatoes as well, along with maple butter. The combination is fire. 

If you add sage butter to sweet potatoes and don't want a marshmallow topping, then add fresh sage to breadcrumbs and butter. That way, you get a herby taste in every spoonful. Don't be afraid of adding more herbs into the mix. Rosemary and thyme complement sage, and they all taste amazing with autumnal and winter comfort foods, including sweet potato casserole. You can add sage to garnish this dish, too.