“Sweetie, where did all of these yams come from,” said LJ as he gazed at a mountain of tubers on the kitchen counter.
“Oh, hi, sweetheart. Those are sweet potatoes. I volunteered us to prepare and cook them for the Mangia Kitchen.”
“The kitchen for the homeless?”
“Yes. We will have help, so we won’t be doing this by ourselves, but we do need to get to work because we have to cook and deliver all of them today.”
“Okay, I’m game, but first, what’s the difference between a yam and a sweet spud?”
Annie smiled and shook her head at her husband’s slang.
“People often get the two confused. Yams and sweet potatoes are in different plant families. Yams are tubers (plants that form at the base of the root), and lily family members, originally from Africa and Asia.
Sweet potatoes, known as root vegetables (meaning the edible part is its root) are native to South and Central America and belong to the morning glory family.
You can distinguish a yam by its rough and almost bark-like skin and flesh that ranges from ivory to purple, not orange. They can grow up to five feet long and are especially important during famines because they can be stored for long periods of time and still retain their nutritional value — making them ideal in countries where food insecurity is chronic.
There are two main types of sweet potatoes. The kind we like have bright orange, soft and sweet flesh encased in a dark copper skin. The golden skin version contains flesh that has a drier texture and is less sweet.”
As they finished scrubbing the sweet potatoes, preparing them for baking, Annie continued, “The nutritional profile of yams and sweet potatoes are different too.
Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are less sweet, which means they are lower in sugar. They are also lower in sodium but higher in vitamins C, E, K, B1 and B6, potassium, and phosphorus. A medium-size is about 116 calories, 27 grams of carbs, and 4 grams of fiber. Their resistant starches and fiber support digestive health contributing to a healthy gut. Yam fiber turns into a gel, making you feel fuller longer, potentially contributing to weight loss.
An average-size sweet potato is about 90 calories, 21 grams of carbs, and 3 grams of fiber. They are more nutritious than yams due to their higher concentration of most nutrients. They deliver more vitamins B2 and B5, as well as calcium (strong bones), zinc (immune system), magnesium (blood sugar), and iron (red blood cells). They also store well and can keep for up to two to three months. Sweet potatoes are a good source of complex starches, which are easier to digest. As an excellent source of vitamin A, and carotenoids, they support eye health. Purple sweet potatoes are especially beneficial as a protector of the eyes due to their antioxidant, anthocyanin.”
The first batch of potatoes were out of the oven. Several volunteers arrived to help with the final step of mashing and seasoning.
“Hey, these are sweet potatoes,” said Obi. “I thought we were cooking yams. In Nigeria, where I am from, yams are a major part of our diet. There is a strong belief that eating yams increases the chances of twins, but it is unproven as a fact. Anyway, I was amused to learn that people here often call sweet potatoes yams. I read that the confusion started when slaves referred to the sweet potato as nyami because it reminded them of the yams they knew in Africa. Then to further complicate things, when the copper-skinned, orange-flesh sweet potato was introduced several decades ago, producers began calling them yams as a marketing method for distinguishing them from the golden-skin variety.”
“That’s right, Obi, yams are not really common here. You go to an international food market to find them. A yam, labeled as such in a US supermarket, is usually a type of sweet potato.”
A few hours later, the sweet potatoes were packed and ready to go. “I yam glad we did this, Annie. “In the words of Todd Stocker, — Helping others is the secret sauce to a happy life,” declared LJ. Annie smiled and kissed him.
Annie and LJ are a fictional couple introduced to the readers of the Healthy Healing Eats blog in January 2020. Their storyline promotes healthy
eating and earth-friendly practices.
Andrea Breaux is the Founder of Healthy Healing Eats. She writes about food-as-medicine and earth-friendly lifestyle practices. Find her weekly blog, recipes, and products at healthyhealingeats.com.