About Sweet Potatoes

swpotI say sweet potato; you say yams. Chances are that we are talking about the same root. It seems that we have given the name “yam” to two things that do look kind of alike, but taste very different and botanically aren’t even related. A true yam is a starchy tuber first cultivated in Africa and Asia. Some varieties can grow to more than 100 pounds and can be seven feet long!

We also call a variety of sweet potatoes, yams. It seems that it was a combination of mistaken identity and a marketing ploy. In the mid-20th century, a new sweet potato variety was introduced to the U.S. market. It was softer and sweeter than the firmer ones grown in the U.S. at the time. They resembled the African yam in appearance, so Africans started referring to them as “nyami.”

The producers and shippers, wanting to make sure this potato stood out among its firmer cousin, co-opted and shortened the African name to “yam.” This way, no one would confuse the sweeter tuber with the traditional one. Little did they know, years later, they are now causing confusion between sweet yams and true yams.

To avoid kitchen mishaps, the USDA requires that sweet yams have “sweet potato” written on its label.

No worries, a true, starchy yam is pretty hard to come by around here. Ask for yams, and you will most likely get the delicious, healthy, orange tuberous root. In an international market or specialty store, you might want to double check to make sure that the tuber you are buying will work in your pie.

To say that sweet potatoes are loaded with vitamin A (in the form of beta-carotene) is an understatement. One cup of mashed sweet potatoes contains more than 1,000 percent of your daily recommended allowance of this powerful vitamin. That certainly is a lot of vitamin A. This root vegetable is also a good source of vitamin C, manganese, vitamin B6, potassium and iron. It is rich in antioxidants and has anti-inflammatory properties.

Sweet potatoes are the perfect vegetables to hide in baked goods. Just an ounce of cooked sweet potato (about a heaping tablespoon) provides 100 percent of your daily recommend allowance of vitamin A. Try hiding it in cakes, cookies, muffins, puddings or pies.