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Video:What Is the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

with Brent Rose

Yams and sweet potatoes are food terms sometimes used interchangeably, but they are actually very different. Learn the history, cooking, and differences between yams and sweet potatoes.See Transcript

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Transcript:What Is the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

Hi, I’m Brent Rose for About.com and today we’re going to look at the differences between yams and sweet potatoes. To start off with, this is a sweet potato. Where as this… is also a sweet potato. This is a yam. Confused? Well, so are most grocery stores in the U.S., but yams and sweet potatoes are not even related botanically.

Sweet Potatoes are Common in the United States

Sweet potatoes come in many varieties. The skin color can range from red to purple, yellow, brown, or white. The flesh also ranges in color from white or yellow to a dark orange. Their skin is thin and edible. Varieties are classified as “firm” or “soft”. “Firm” sweet potatoes stay relatively firm when cooked, where as “soft” sweet potatoes turn soft and moist. It is the orange-fleshed “soft” varieties that are most often mistakenly called “yams” in the United States.

Yams are Starchier than the American Sweet Potato

True yams are native to Africa and parts of Asia. They may be the size of a small potato or grow to be up to eight feet long and weigh more than 150lbs! There are more than 600 types of yams, 95% of which are grown in Africa. The skin on most varieties of yams is thick, rough, and somewhat bark-like, and the raw flesh is mucilaginous and slippery. When cooked, yams are generally much drier, starchier, and less sweet than the American sweet potatoes called yams. The confusion started in the United States when “soft” varieties were first being grown commercially, and producers needed to differentiate them from the hard variety people were accustomed to.

Slaves who had been brought from Africa had already been calling the soft potatoes “yams” because they bore some resemblance to the real yams which are a staple in Africa, usually called nyami, or something similar. True yams are extremely difficult to find in the U.S. compared to sweet potatoes. They can generally only be found in international markets and specialty stores. Asking for yams will almost always get you sweet potatoes, but you may have more luck if you try asking by their Spanish name nyami.

Prepare Yams Similar to Potatoes

For most yam recipes, you want to start by peeling it. You can use a sharp pairing knife, or a strong potato peeler. Be careful, as the flesh underneath is extremely slippery. Cut out any bad spots and wash the yam in cold water to make sure there is no sand or grit left on it. They can then be baked like a potato wrapped in foil, or they can be fried, grilled, smoked, barbecued, or boiled. To make fufu (foofoo, foufou), a staple of Central and West Africa, cut the yam into even chunks, then boil them for about twenty minutes, stirring occasionally. Once a knife can go into the chunks with virtually no resistance, they are done and should be drained. Traditionally, fufu is made by putting the cooked pieces into giant mortar and pestle and beating them until the desired consistency is reached, but a food processor can be used to do the job. It can even be done by simply mashing the pieces with a spoon against the wall of a pot until it reaches the desired consistency. It is usually served with soup, or another savory dish.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion. Thanks for watching, to learn more, visit us on the web at About.com.Note: True yams can be stored for up to six months without refrigeration! This is vastly longer than sweet potatoes' shelf life, which is about one month.
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