Will the real sweet potato please stand up?
Mairlyn Smith, PHEc
Sweet potatoes are often called yams in the produce section, an error that will make any botanist worth their weight in beta carotene run screaming from the store. Produce pundits can skip to the recipes. The rest of you? Here's the lowdown on who's sweet and who's a yam.
Sweet potatoes are often called yams in the produce section, an error that will make any botanist worth their weight in beta carotene run screaming from the store. Produce pundits can skip to the recipes. The rest of you? Here’s the lowdown on who’s sweet and who’s a yam.
Let’s start with the exterior. The skin of the sweet potato is smooth; the skin or peel of a yam is scaly and rough. Peering inside, sweet potatoes have either a yellow orange or red orange flesh; yams are pale and white fleshed. The sweeter and moister red orange sweet potato is extremely rich in beta carotene, an antioxidant that potentially reduces the incidence of certain cancers and heart disease. Sweet potatoes are also rich in potassium, an important nutrient for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Pity the yam. Not only does it have a starchier quality but it has very little beta carotene.
Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), a member of the morning glory family, are indigenous to tropical America; yams (Dioscorea spp.) are native to Southeast Asia and Africa. Both are grown in warm areas around the world.
Checklist ready? Different exteriors, interiors, and nutrient breakdowns; in short, not the same veggie.
Check out the sweet potatoes next time you’re perusing the produce and see if your green grocer has labelled them as yams. Even if they are labelled incorrectly, rest assured that 99.9 percent of the time, those yams are really sweet.
Recipes from Ultimate Foods for Ultimate Health...and don't forget the chocolate! (Whitecap, 2007)