Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Great Yam Debate!

Last week I received an e-mail from Patricia after she read my Pureed Squash and Yam Soup post. She asked:
When you say yam, do you really mean sweet potato, or are you talking about the HUGE yam you get in asian markets?
After responding, I realized I should clarify the difference here as well. It is puzzling why there is so much inconsistency with this terminology. When I wrote Vive, I did some research and found that even between Canada and the US, sweet potatoes and yams are understood differently. My references to yams and sweet potatoes goes with the 'general' understanding of the words. So... when I refer to "yams" in my recipes, I mean the deep orange flesh varieties, either jewel or garnet yam (pictured right) in your grocery stores. Not the whopper yams you may see in Asian markets.

When my recipe calls for sweet potato, I mean the creamy yellowish flesh tuber, pictured left. To double check when shopping, just scrape the flesh slightly to see if the flesh underneath is yellowish or orange.

Now, I'm fairly certain that in the US, the orange-flesh tubers are called sweet potatoes, so this is definitely confusing. Sometimes yams and sweet potatoes can be interchanged, but here is my clarification on the varieties for your reference.

Thanks Patricia for your e-mail and hopefully this will clear up questions for others too!

Cooking Tip: One of my favorite ways to eat yams and sweet potatoes is as "fries". I have recipes in both Vive and TEV for yam fries, and posted a picture with falafels previously, but you can make them simply by peeling, cutting in wedges or slices, tossing with olive oil, sea salt, and then baking for about 45-60 minutes at roughly 400 degrees. Use parchment on your baking sheet for easy clean-up!


EatPeacePlease said...

Thanks for the clarification. I am not really familiar with either, and now I know how to begin my approach to picking them and trying new recipes. Thanks Dreena.

Isil S. said...

Unfortunately sweet potatoes are not grown in Turkey. I came across them during my stay in Algeria. I used to bake them. That way they reminded me chestnuts and our kitty was a fan of sweet potatoes, too ;)

Danielle D. said...

Thanks for the clarification. I always eat the ones with the orange flesh and I have always called them sweet potatoes (and I am pretty sure that is what the grocery stores around here call them as well). I don't know if I have ever seen ones with yellow flesh.

Anna said...

We only get the orange ones in England and they're called Sweet Potatoes. For lack of a better method I just use them when yams are called for, I know it's not right and the taste is probably wrong but at least I can cook more dishes! lol

We just did the Sweet Curry Chickpea Casserole from Vive tonight (with sweet potatoes) and it was well approved, although my Little One would only eat the sweet potatoes, he's being fussy at the moment...

Ms. Mercedes said...

Yep, in the states, "sweet potato" and "yam" are pretty much interchangibly, though I know there are technical differences. But sweet potatoes are def. the ones with orange flesh. Anything else is just a "potato," and we specify by type, i.e. russet, idaho, etc.
I actually just bought a "sweet potato" at the store today and am planning to whip up some cannellini yam hummus later this week--yum!

Patricia said...

Thanks, Dreena! Wow, I'm famous. LOL

Julie said...

Thanks for posting this...the difference between them always confuses me!

Dreena said...

You're welcome, Leslie. Definitely give them a try. They are especially good as fries with a spicier dish with mexican or indian flavors. The sweetness balances the spiciness I find.

Hi Isil, that's too bad that you cannot purchase them there. Yams aren't available either? I bake them whole too to puree into soups or for mashing/cubing for the baby!

Hi Danielle. I used to notice the orange flesh taters called sweet potatoes too, but out west I find they are called yams, both in grocery stores and online organic grocery services. The yellow flesh ones are sometimes easy to mistake for the orange. Scrape them just a little to check! (produce staff just love that as you can imagine!) :)

Hi Anna. You can often interchange the two. Sometimes I find that sweet potatoes (yellow) work better in dishes where you want the pieces to hold their form, since the orange flesh (yams) are more moist and get mushier when baked. You may have found that with the Sweet Curry Chickpea Casserole. Glad you liked it anyhow... at least your little guy ate some of the dish! :)

Ms. Mercedes, yeah, for sure I have seen the orange-fleshed variety referred to as sweet potatoes. We see it with 'sweet potato pie', etc. Hope you like the hummus!!

Hey, you're welcome Patricia... thank you!

Glad to help clear up some of the confusion, Julie!!

KaiVegan said...

Ok, I'll make some (bake) yam fries now. I mean, sweet potato, no, yam, wait, which one is it? hmmm..
still waiting for my Vive...in the meantime, can I link you to my blog?

Danielle said...

I live in the US, and have heard them used interchangeably, but in the Whole Foods, they are referred to as yams. I don't think I've seen sweet potatoes there. But I love big orange, fleshy roasted yams.

Tina K said...

Your recipe for miso/curried potatoes in Vive is amazing. A few weeks ago I tried it with yams! So delicious!!! Everyone at work wanted a taste- they were a huge hit.

Harmonia said...

Ironically I just read a large article (which I cannot find now) by Tony Tantillo (The Fresh Grocer). There are MANY differences between the two and I never knew! From the region where they originate to size/shape, nutritional facts even! It's really interesting stuff, actually!

Thanks for posting this info!

Do you know if the Food Network will be getting any Vegetarian Cooking Shows on? I wish, I wish!

Harmonia said...

Danielle do you have a blog?

Dreena said...

Hi kaivegan, absolutely, and thanks!

Now Danielle, that's a first, because I've always heard the orange ones referred to as sweet potatoes in the US, and yams in Canada.

Thanks tina k!! So glad you liked them... GREAT idea using yams in that recipe, in fact better I think than white potatoes because of the balance of sweet to salty... hmmmm, I think I may make that option a sidebar note in the next reprint - thanks!

Harmonia said...

WHOA! Dreena...we must be online at the same time! COOL!

I am still waiting for my books - I forgot Monday was a holiday here so I hope to get them today or tomorrow.

Dreena said...

Hi Harmonia! I'm really not sure about the Food Network. In Canada, we also have a different selection of shows with Food Network Canada than there is in the US. I wonder if they have some support from the meat/dairy industries, because there doesn't seem to be anything devoted to vegetarian. Even an occasional vegetarian episode in one of their programs will usually feature eggs and/or dairy.

Danielle D. said...

Harmonia, I don't have a blog (yet), but the other Danielle who posted (the one in the US) has one: http://suppersinglegirl.blogspot.com/

It is confusing have two Danielle's that post here...maybe I will add an initial to my name.

Harmonia said...

Danielle ~ Let us know if/when you create a blog! I actually link to the other Danielle!

Dreena ~ I wonder the same thing. A while back I signed a petition to the Food Network in support of veg*n cooking shows.

I wish they would do a Vegan Iron Chef!!!

Dobsonites said...

Just to confuse the issue, here in New Zealand both of the veges you show are called kumara (sweet potatoes). Yams are something else entirely - small reddish-orange grublike things.
But thanks for the clarification, as I never know what to use when using overseas cookbooks!