Recently someone asked me why we called sweet potatoes "yams" and why they were different colors? I thought they were just different varieties of yams. I really didn't have a definitive answer. I really don't like not being a smarty-pants. So I thought I'd look into it. I, Chef Tess, learned something new! Come to find out...what I had called "sweet potatoes" were just one variety of sweet potato (the white ones)...and there were many in the USA in fact really dopey as I felt, I had been calling sweet potato varieties "yams" that were well...not real yams.
Sweet Potatoes VS Yams...What's the Diff'?
general information source
Yams Yams are related to lilies and grasses.They're native to Africa and Asia and yams vary in size from that of a small potato to a record 130 pounds (as of 1999). Remarkably there are over 600 varieties of yams. 95% of these crops are grown in their native Africa. Yams are starchy and dry compared to sweet potatoes.
The many varieties of sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are members of the morning glory family, Convolvulacea. This explains the vines.The skin color can range from white to yellow, red, purple or brown. The flesh also ranges in color from white to yellow, orange, or orange-red. Sweet potato varieties are classified as either ‘firm’ or ‘soft’.
Why Are We Confused In America?
In the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes were produced before soft varieties. When soft varieties were first grown commercially, there was a need to differentiate between the two. African slaves had already been calling the ‘soft’ sweet potatoes ‘yams’ because they resembled the yams in Africa.
When we pulled our Sweet Potatoes out of the ground...we called them sweet potatoes. Thanks to my dad.
The ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to distinguish them from the ‘firm’ varieties. Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.’ Unless you specifically search for yams, which are usually found in an international market, you are probably eating sweet potatoes!
Last I checked, my neighborhood market didn't carry the international variety. So there you go. Smarty pants.
I'm still eating the sweet potato pie...even if someone calls it a yam pie. It's not really going to change the taste...right?
There you go.
Random Facts are now in your giant brain too.
Always My Very Best,
Your Friend Chef Tess