I learned a lesson about sweet potatoes once while teaching a cooking class in Northern BC.
I had requested sweet potatoes for a recipe, thinking that the only ones available at the small local grocery would be orange. When the organizer presented me with the light yellow flesh variety, I realized that I should have been more specific about the colour. Maybe I should have asked for “yams.”
The confusion about yams and sweet potatoes is ongoing.
When the orange fleshed sweet potatoes first came to market they were referred to as “yams” to distinguish them from the light yellow flesh sweet potatoes that were already available. True yams and sweet potatoes come from completely different plant families and are quite distinct from each other.
Here’s the deal: if you’re shopping at general grocers in B.C., you’re probably buying sweet potatoes, not yams. “Yam” fries listed on restaurant menus aren’t yams at all, they’re orange fleshed sweet potatoes. Yams are common in tropical regions. They’re available here, but more so in large grocery stores that carry a good selection of international foods.
Sweet potatoes have smooth, thin skin that is easy to peel while yams have rougher, scalier skin (like tree bark) that’s difficult to peel. Sweet potatoes come in several different colours, but the most common ones in our grocery stores have yellowish skin and light yellow flesh, or a darker orangey brown skin and bright orange flesh. These are the ones that we often refer to as “yams”. True yams often have dark brown skin and white, purple or red flesh. Sweet potatoes typically taste sweeter and moister, while yams taste starchier and are drier. They’re both nutritious, giving us energy and fibre. Sweet potatoes are high in beta carotene while yams have more potassium.
Whatever you call them, sweet potatoes are delicious.
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