The Difference between Sweet Potatoes and Yams
The greatest confusion regarding the difference between sweet potatoes and yams stems from certain things unique to the United States, where the terms are often used interchangeably. The beginning of the confusion stems from a decision by shippers to distinguish the two varieties of sweet potatoes with the words ‘sweet potatoes’ for the white-flesh variety and the African name ‘nyami’ (given to real yams in Africa) for the orange flesh variety of sweet potatoes. The English version of ‘nyami’ is ‘yam’ and thus the confusion began.
Yams and sweet potatoes are not related to one another. Sweet potatoes have a higher moisture content than yams, and are sweeter due to a higher amount of natural sugar. The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission provides a wealth of information regarding the differences, including photos.
Regardless of what they are called, both names appear on items commonly served at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table.
Selection and Storage
When selecting fresh sweet potatoes, look for tubers with firmness and a lack of blemishes. The skin should be tight, not wrinkled. Though they can be found in cans year-round, the season for fresh sweet potatoes begins in October and runs through January.
Fresh sweet potatoes are best stored in an environment that maintains a 55 degrees Fahrenheit temperature, is cool and is dark. Under these conditions, fresh sweet potatoes may last for three or four weeks, but are best used, unrefrigerated, within about a week of purchase.
Selecting fresh yams is much the same as selecting fresh sweet potatoes. The yams should be firm, have no blemishes and have unwrinkled skin.
Fresh yams will last for about two weeks in a cool, dark place that is not refrigerated. Yams can often be used in place of sweet potatoes, but should never be eaten raw as they are toxic until cooked.
Sweet Potato and Yam Recipes
Epicurious offers a plethora of sweet potato recipes that make use of sweet potatoes in gnocchi, ravioli, cakes, soup and gratin, for starters. Most of the recipes are quite highly rated.
They also offer a wealth of highly-rated yam recipes, too. They include puree, pancetta, stir-fry, galette, pudding and stew.
Paula Deen demonstrates how to make her Stuffed Sweet Potato Balls on Hulu. The recipe can be found on the Food Network.
Sweet Potato Pie
Sweet potato pie is one common use of the tuber. Alton Brown of Good Eats offers his own version of Sweet Potato Pie on the Food Network.
CDKitchen has a collection of sweet potato pie recipes, including variations with chocolate, made for diabetics and some named for celebrities.
Tips and Tricks
An easy way to peel sweet potatoes and yams is to boil them in water first, and then slide the skin off. They may be boiled whole or in large chunks, depending upon the intended use.
A simple way to serve sweet potatoes is to cook and mash them just like regular mashed potatoes. They can be seasoned with butter, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, honey and a number of other options.
There is a “sweetgrass” band named Sweet Potato Pie. One of their songs may be heard at their website.
Sweet Potato Facts, Selection, and Storage. Peggy Trowbridge Filippone. Home Cooking: About.com. http://homecooking.about.com/cs/productreviews/p/sweetpotato_pro.htm
Yam Facts, Selection and Storage. Peggy Trowbridge Filippone. Home Cooking: About.com. http://homecooking.about.com/cs/productreviews/p/yam_pro.htm