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Sweet potatoes vs. yams

Fine Cooking Issue 47
Photo: Scott Phillips
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Cruise the potato section in most produce stores and you´ll likely see a sign for yams above coppery-colored, pointy root vegetables. Visit an Asian or Hispanic market and you’ll find a decidedly different vegetable—with dark, rough, scaly skin—also labeled as a yam.

The truth is that the supermarket yam is not a yam at all, but a type of sweet potato.

The sweet potato is grown around the world, although it’s indigenous to the Americas and is especially popular in the southern United States. According to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, the naming confusion began decades ago when Louisiana farmers developed a new sweet potato with dark-orange flesh that´s moister than the light-skinned, pale-fleshed sweet potatoes. To distinguish this new breed, they called it a yam and the name stuck. Today, the USDA requires that these “yams” (sometimes called American or Louisiana yams) also be correctly labeled as sweet potatoes.

The true yam is an unrelated species that’s much starchier than the sweet potato and is a staple food for much of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Called ñame or igname, it can be huge and irregularly shaped. The skin is usually pale to dark brown, and the crisp, dry flesh is white to ivory to yellow. Yams taste rather bland and they aren´t sweet.

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Article

Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

Fine Cooking Issue 35
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Scan the potato selection in most groceries and you’ll probably see a sign for yams above coppery-colored, pointy root vegetables. If you then visit an Hispanic or Asian market, you’ll find a decidedly different vegetable—with dark, rough, scaly skin—also labeled as a yam. The truth is that the former, the supermarket yam, is not a yam at all but a type of sweet potato.

The sweet potato, a member of the morning glory family, is grown around  the world, although it’s indigenous to the Americas and is especially popular in the southern United States. According to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, the naming confusion began several decades ago when Louisiana farmers developed a new sweet potato with dark-orange flesh that cooks up moister and softer than the light-skinned, pale-fleshed sweet potatoes that were common at the time. To distinguish this new breed, they called it a yam and the name stuck. Today, the USDA requires that these “yams” (sometimes called American or Louisiana yams) also be correctly labeled as sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes range from light brown to reddish pink to deep copper and even purple, with interiors that are anything from a dry, pale ivory to a moist, deep orange.

The true yam is an unrelated species that’s quite starchy (much more so than the sweet potato) and is a staple food for much of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.  There are many varieties of yams (also called ñame or igname), ranging from small and potato shaped to huge and irregularly shaped (one source claims that they can weigh up to 500 pounds, which is why they’re sometimes sold in chunks). The somewhat shaggy skin (often peeled before cooking) is usually pale to dark brown, and the crisp, dry flesh is white to ivory to yellow. Yams, which taste rather bland and are not sweet, can be boiled, baked, or fried; they’re commonly used in soups and stews.

To add to the confusion, the unrelated boniato is sometimes called a white sweet potato, Cuban sweet potato, or batata. Somewhere between an ordinary potato and a sweet potato in taste and texture, boniato are sold in Latin markets and used in any way either a sweet or white potato is. (The sweet potato, the yam, and the boniato are all unrelated to our common potato.)

Sweet Potato
Yam

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