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the sweet potato yam debate


What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam?

It’s a bit like the difference between Pluto and Goofy. They’re not quite the same, but almost. Or maybe not at all. Hmmm?

With the stock market tanking and the swine flu looming, maybe you haven’t given it much thought. That’s where I come in and save the day. I’m sure you’re quite curious and on the off-chance you have no clue what the difference is, I’m here to explain.

Why, you ask?

First off, no yawning.

And second, we’re food people, we need to know this stuff.

Yams and sweet potatoes are two different vegetables, they’re not related. If you think you’re eating a yam, it’s most likely a sweet potato if you bought it in a US market. Yes, it’s confusing. Ah, but to enlighten us, the US Department of Agriculture requires all labels that feature the word yam to also include the word sweet potato.


I love it when the government steps in to clear things up.

To add to the confusion, sweet potatoes aren’t related to white baking potatoes at all and in New Zealand sweet potatoes are called kumara. In the ultra-abridged version of Hinduism, Kumara is the commander and chief of the divine army of the gods. He was also in command of an ancient version of Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Similar to Luke’s mission, Kumara used his mighty sword to slay ignorance (handy little device, swing away Kumara).

How do I spiral from sweet potatoes to mystical weapons? I keep promising myself I won’t do that. And why is this sweet potato yam thing so confusing? Actually, it’s not. Here are the differences.

A true yam is common in tropical climates (Africa, the Caribbean, South America) and contains more natural sugar than the sweet potato. The word “yam” comes from the African word nyami, meaning to eat. Yams aren’t common in traditional US markets, but you might find some in specialty markets. There are over 150 yam varieties available world-wide.

Sweet Potatoes
We’re eating sweet potatoes if we’re using one of the two tubers shown in the photo above. Sweet potatoes vary in color from yellowish to dark reddish-orange (see my two picks above). The darker one is often wrongly called a yam. They’re both sweet potatoes although the lighter skinned ones are not as sweet and have more of a crumbly, dry texture. The darker, vivid colors contain more moisture and sweetness. I prefer using the red over the yellow sweet potatoes in my gluten-free baking. That way I can go with less added sweetener and also not worry as much about dryness. Those of us who have taken on the challenge of baking without gluten need all the help we can get and to be honest, I’d rather figure out some of my own tricks and tips using real food rather than the growing collection of modified starches and additives.

Nutritional profile of sweet potatoes
Not only are they sweet and moist, they’re packed with goodness. Sweet potatoes are a great way to get your sugar fix in a healthy way. Packed (260 % daily value) with vitamin A and rich in vitamin C, these vegetables are an excellent source of antioxidants. They also contain a unique storage protein that is high in antioxidant capabilities.

Roasted sweet potato fries (one of my favorites)

what you need
• 2 or 3 medium/large sweet potatoes, washed and cut in medium “French fry” wedges
• 1 tablespoon coconut oil or olive oil
• sea salt

what you do
• Preheat oven to 425
• Put prepared sweet potatoes in large bowl, drizzle with oil and gently work it over potatoes evenly
• Arrange potatoes in a single layer on an oiled cookie sheet
• Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, watching carefully and stirring occasionally
• Salt to taste and serve immediately

* You can also use various spices such as paprika or ground cumin to add different flavors. Blend those spices in with the oil.

Go forth and sweeten up your baking the natural way!

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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