Let's talk about Sweet Potatoes....

I am writing this post as a PSA (public service announcement) for all the confused cooks out there who can't figure out the difference between YAMS and SWEET POTATOES.

Here's the main thing that you need to know: unless you are going to an oriental market that sells yams, you are NEVER, ever buying yams at your local grocer. Not even at Thanksgiving time!! (Not even in the cans).

Here's a great link on the difference from the library of Congress: Sweet potatoes vs. yams.

Why are they called Yams if they are really just Sweet Potatoes?? Blame a grocery marketing guy in the early part of last century who wanted to appeal to the ego of American Homemakers by introducing a new and exotic vegetable. All it really was is that a different type of sweet potato had become readily available, and a type of vegetable grown in another part of the world sounded more appealing that what most people already knew about.

Another good source of info is this site from the Louisiana Sweet Potato Board. Apparently, they LIKED that Yam designation and they have run with it. More marketing...oye. If you click on their "facts" tab at the top of the page, you will see more of their info and logic behind marketing them as yams.

There you have it. Why they CONTINUE being called Yams! It may never be made right in American stores because of them. Oh well! To their credit, they have some great recipes on their site.

So, there are 3 major types of Sweet Potatoes grown in the US and South America, and there are 2 that you will regularly find at your local grocer. The ones you usually see in abundance at Thanksgiving time that are larger, knobbier and darker (and called "yams"), are actually the "Red Garnet" variety. Occasionally, I see a store where that variety is labeled as such, and the more pale and smoother skin variety is labeled simply as a "Sweet Potato". The Red Garnet flesh is darker orange and is moister than the other variety called sweet potatoes. Most of the time however, you will see the Red Garnet variety labeled as a yam!

The thing I find most intriguing about Sweet Potatoes is that they are actually a "root" of a plant that is in the Morning Glory Family. So those beautiful lime green leaf plants (Sweet Potato Vine) that people grow in gardens and containers are a sterile variety of the plant that produces the root that we can eat!

So, true potatoes are actually tubers (i.e: an underground vine), and yams are actually relatives of grass and lilies, while sweet potatoes are another type of plant entirely and not related at all to the other plants that they are so often referred to!

Now...I LOVE me some Sweet Potatoes. I always have some in my pantry. I love to cook them in a variety of ways. I've added a new recipe on my food blog to share with you if you're suddenly feeling the need to check out the potato bins at the store so you can cook some up:
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Brown Sugar Balsamic Roast.

Let me know how they are labeled at YOUR local grocer. I'm curious how they are marketed in the rest of the country!




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