A to Z Challenge – Y is for Yam

Posted by mcm0704 on April 28, 2012 |

Which is not the same as a sweet potato, although they are closely related. For most of us, we have heard the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” used more or less interchangeably, but almost all of the different varieties of yams and sweet potatoes found in American markets – no matter what color the skins or flesh are – are actually from the sweet potato family.

Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. I like them baked with a little bit of butter and maybe a light sprinkling of brown sugar or cinnamon. They are also very good mashed and baked as acasserole with marshmallows on top, or just sliced and steamed. They are a very nutritional vegetable, loaded with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.

Did you know that the sweet potato was brought to the rest of the world from Saint Thomas by Columbus? I’m so glad he did.

While sweet potatoes are common in most grocery stores, yams are more difficult to find. Some international markets that carry African or Caribbean foods might have them. True yams are quite a bit larger than sweet potatoes; they can be up to the size of a man’s arm. They’re often cut into smaller chunks at the market.

Whole Yam

Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms (flowering plants), they are not related botanically. Yams are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) and from the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. Sweet Potatoes are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) and are from the Convolvulacea or morning glory family.

For a detailed explanation of the difference between the two potatoes here is a site to visit.

I remember my mother putting a sweet potato in a glass with just the tip of it touching the water. She would balance the potatoes up by toothpicks resting on the edge of the glass. After a week or so, roots would form, and then she would plant the potato in a big pot. It made a lovely decoration for our porch, and I have done that here in recent years. The leaves trail out of the pot and are perfect for a hanging basket in the shade. At the end of the summer, one can then harvest a few potatoes from the pot.

Here in East Texas, the small town of Gilmer perpetuates the confusion between a yam and a sweet potato with its annual Yamboree Festival. Gilmer is one of the sweet potato capitals of the country, and we can get plenty of fresh sweet potatoes in the fall.

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