For most people, fall and the holidays wouldn’t seem complete without sweet potatoes. This yummy treat is often confused with the yam. However, the two are actually different vegetables. The sweet potato (what we most commonly eat) is a native of tropical areas of Central and South America and are members of the morning glory family.
True yams are a starchy, edible root that come from West Africa and Asia, and weigh between two and eight pounds and are related to grasses and lilies. Yams have a white to yellow flesh and sweet potatoes are usually yellow to deep orange.
Sweet potatoes require warm climates similar to the southern part of the United States. That’s why here in the U.S, sweet potatoes remain a traditionally southern crop. In order to produce a large enough crop to be grown commercially, sweet potatoes require a great deal of heat and no frost. Most commercial US production takes place in Louisiana and North Carolina.
The confusion between “true” yams and sweet potatoes comes from the fact that over the years, the produce and grocery industries have often used the word “yam” to describe varieties of sweet potatoes that are vivid orange and have a sweet moist flesh.
To add to the confusion, sweet potatoes grown in Louisiana are commonly referred to as “yams,” even by the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission.
When Louisiana producers adopted the Puerto Rican variety of sweet potatoes, which is orange-fleshed, they called them “yams” to distinguish them from the white-fleshed sweet potatoes more common in other parts of the U.S. As a result, “yam” became the trademark for Louisiana-grown sweet potatoes.
Just remember that true yams are not native to the U.S. and are imported here on a limited basis. And the delicious gems you buy at the grocery store or farmers’ market are sweet potatoes.
When choosing sweet potatoes avoid those with soft spots, bruises, or signs of decay. For the best quality and the sweetest flavor, choose those that are firm and well shaped with clean, smooth skins. Sweet potatoes with an orange flesh tend to be more moist and sweeter than lighter colored potatoes.
To ripen a sweet potato, simply leave it out on your countertop until it reaches the desired ripeness. Sweet potatoes must be cooked before eaten and can be boiled, baked, or sauteed and served alone or as a side dish.
Sweet Potato and Apple Bake
4 cups apples, sliced
1 orange/orange juice
4 cups sweet potatoes
Combine 4 cups of sliced apples, the juice from one orange, and 4 cups of sliced sweet potatoes in a casserole or baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until done.
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