Sunday, October 10, 2010

Which One is it?

Yam Sweet Potato
Scientific Names: Dioscorea species Ipomoea batatas
Plant Group: Monocotyledon Dicotyledon
Beginning: 50,000 BC Prehistoric
Appearance: Rough, scaly skin Smooth, with thin skin
Mouth feel: Dry Moist
Taste: Dry Sweet

As if all that really mattered to you, right? It probably doesn’t matter to any of you whether it’s a yam or sweet potato, now does it? It is interesting though, really! Well, just, indulge me for the sake of discussion, won’t you.
We’ve all had various dishes that have called for a sweet potato but were substituted with a yam. Or, possibly a recipe that required a yam and a sweet potato was used in its place. For example, many of us have either eaten or baked a sweet potato pie that was actually filled with a yam instead of a sweet potato or was it?
Beside the uninteresting distinguishable facts stated above, both the yam and sweet potato have great benefits and similarities between them. So, before we further separate these distant cousins, let’s discuss their comparable qualities.
Both contain Vitamins A, C, B6, dietary fiber as well as trace minerals like potassium, manganese, copper and iron. They also weigh in very low on the glycemic index. Coming in at a 16 on the index scale the yam is one point lower than the sweet potato that measures at 17. For those of you unfamiliar with the glycemic index, it measures how quickly a carbohydrate-rich food increases your blood sugar concentration. A long-term consumption of these “miracle” veggies can actually assist in fighting against diabetes symptoms. Though full of nutrients, the sweet potato has been found to be of greater benefit in containing a storage protein, that produces an antioxidant similar in the capacity to that of glutathione-one of our body’s internally produced antioxidants. This causes the sweet potato to be helpful in reducing conditions of inflammation, such as asthma, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. The yam on the other hand contains compounds which can aggravate inflammation-related diseases. So be careful if you’re living through any of these ailments.
Now that we’ve all been educated on their benefits, let’s discuss how we can differentiate the two.
A yam is closely related to lilies and grasses. Native to Africa and Asia, the name “yam” was adopted from “nyami”, which varies in colors from white to ivory, to yellow o purple, while the skin can be white, pink or brownish-black. They are long and cylindrical in shape, while rough and scaly in their exterior.
Sweet potatoes have yellow or orange flesh. Their skin is white, yellow, orange, red or purple. The white and yellow-orange flesh is more common. Shaped like a potato, short and blocky with rounded ends, sometimes longer with tapered ends, sweet potatoes are grouped into two different categories depending upon the texture. When cooked, some are dry, firm and mealy, while others are soft and moist. This brings me to the above question, “Yam or Sweet Potato-Which one is it?”
We’ve gone over what distinguishes these relatable vegetables and what also makes them similar but have we been able to truly tell them apart. It’s quite possible that we think we’ve done just that. Then there’s this bit of information. According to the LOC (Library of Congress), the soft varieties of potatoes often labeled as yams in the United States are not yams at all but are in fact sweet potatoes. Have you bought these sweet potatoes believing you’ve purchased yams? I’m sure you have and you’re not the only one.
Are you more confused about whether it’s a yam or a sweet potato? Don’t be. The fact that they’re so interchangeable should tell you that it’s of no consequence which one you use for your recipes, unless you just prefer one over the other or your dish calls for a firm or softer potato. Then and only then should you be slightly concerned.
As for me, I’ll continue to use the sweet potato, labeled as a “yam”. I’ve been using it this long. What would be the point of changing now? Sweet potato-yam it is.
Below is a list of traditional meals that require the “yam” or sweet potato as the key ingredient. Try switching one for the other and see if it makes a difference. Probably not but it might be fun just to experiment. Good times!

Yam Ideas:
Grilled Yams, Yam and Apple Casserole, Harvest Yams, Rosemary Mashed Potatoes and Yams, Candied Yams

Sweet Potatoes:
Boiled Sweet Potatoes, Deep Fat French Fried Sweet Potatoes, Smashed Parmesan sweet potatoes, Skillet Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato Butter, Sweet Potato Pie

1 comment:

Chef Jay said...

Love this article Chef!

Great information and right on the money!
Looking forward to reading more of your posts.