The Great Yam Scam: Are sweet potatoes really "yams"?

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Are sweet potatoes the same as yams? No. . . and yes. Here's the scoop.

Literally and botanically speaking, the two are not related.

  • Yams are big tuberous roots that are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) and belong to the genus Dioscorea. They are related to grasses and lilies, growing in tropical and subtropical countries that provide eight to ten months of warm weather to mature. Yams can grow two to three feet long and some can weigh as much as 80 pounds. According to horticulturist U. P. Hedrick, the word yam means "to eat" in the dialect of Guinea.
  • Sweet potatoes are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) and are from the Convolvulacea or morning glory family. In the United States today it is possible to find true yams in some urban Hispanic markets. However, most yams in the U.S. are actually sweetpotatoes with relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier.

Both the yam and the sweet potato DO grow underground and have yellowish-orange flesh, but there the similarity ends. Yet the two became entwined in this country by household vernacular in part through the work of a publicity campaign. Earlier this century, sweet potato promoters attached the word yam to the deep orange, moist-fleshed varieties of sweet potatoes and left the words sweet potato to the smaller, yellowish, and drier-fleshed varieties.

The two types of sweet potato are interchangeable in cooking, but bring different tastes, textures, and colors to your plate. Centennial and Puerto Rico are two popular moist-fleshed (formerly called yam) varieties; Nemagold, New Jersey Orange, and Nugget have the lighter and drier (sweet potato) flesh.

Today it is common to find either or both words used in supermarkets, although sweet potato promoters wish we would all stop saying yam. The North Carolina SweetPotato Commission currently urges the world to spell "sweetpotato" as one word. But it's an uphill battle. If your Mama called them yams, for certain you will, too.

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I have read a couple of the

By Forpis

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when is time to dig sweet

By Colon Herrington

when is time to dig sweet potatoes that was planted this pass april 13th.the kind was beaurgard

Hi Colon, the variety you

By Almanac Staff

Hi Colon, the variety you planted is 100 days to harvest, so you should be able to count from when you planted to get an accurate harvest date. Otherwise, you can dig up some of the young potatoes now if you wish, but wait to harvest the full crop until just before the first fall frost in your area. Enjoy!

I planted sweetpotato vines

By Diana Gricus

I planted sweetpotato vines this past summer and was surprized to fine HUGE potatoes at the end of the vines upon our first frost here in Asheville, NC. I tried one out in the oven and it was to funky to eat. I did not fertilize the vine at all and the soil is semi-soft. Are these edible? If so, what type of fertilizer is best other than compost? I did some composing from time to time in the area.

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