Saturday, April 28, 2012

A to Z Challenge - Y is for Yam

Which is not the same as a sweet potato, although they are closely related. For most of us, we have heard the terms "yam" and "sweet potato" used more or less interchangeably, but almost all of the different varieties of yams and sweet potatoes found in American markets - no matter what color the skins or flesh are - are actually from the sweet potato family.

Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are one of my favorite vegetables. I like them baked with a little bit of butter and maybe a light sprinkling of brown sugar or cinnamon. They are also very good mashed and baked as acasserole with marshmallows on top, or just sliced and steamed. They are a very nutritional vegetable, loaded with carotenoids, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber.

Did you know that the sweet potato was brought to the rest of the world from Saint Thomas by Columbus? I'm so glad he did.

While sweet potatoes are common in most grocery stores, yams are more difficult to find. Some international markets that carry African or Caribbean foods might have them. True yams are quite a bit larger than sweet potatoes; they can be up to the size of a man's arm. They're often cut into smaller chunks at the market.

Whole Yam
Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms (flowering plants), they are not related botanically. Yams are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) and from the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. Sweet Potatoes are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) and are from the Convolvulacea or morning glory family.

For a detailed explanation of the difference between the two potatoes here is a site to visit.

I remember my mother putting a sweet potato in a glass with just the tip of it touching the water. She would balance the potatoes up by toothpicks resting on the edge of the glass. After a week or so, roots would form, and then she would plant the potato in a big pot. It made a lovely decoration for our porch, and I have done that here in recent years. The leaves trail out of the pot and are perfect for a hanging basket in the shade. At the end of the summer, one can then harvest a few potatoes from the pot.

Here in East Texas, the small town of Gilmer perpetuates the confusion between a yam and a sweet potato with its annual Yamboree Festival. Gilmer is one of the sweet potato capitals of the country, and we can get plenty of fresh sweet potatoes in the fall.

8 comments:

Dana said...

Very interesting! I think my kids would love to grow a sweet potato plant. I'll have to try that with them soon.

Grover said...

This is the second time in a week that I've read about sweet potatoes being baked with marshmallows (having never heard of it before then). I'm assuming it's an accompaniment to a main meal? Is it not really sickly?

Maryann Miller said...

Grover, this is a traditional Thanksgiving dish for many people. Cook and mash the sweet potatoes with butter, salt and pepper, then sprinkle marshmallow bits on top and bake. It is very sweet, and some folks might find it sickly, but it is a once a year dish for me.

Dana, your kids would enjoy it, I'm sure. You can also start an avocado plant the same way by suspending the seed on a glass so only part of it is in the water. I have tried to grow an avocado plant since we really love them, but the winters are just too cold here.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love sweet potatoes too, usually baked then buttered. Now that I've tasted sweet potatoes French fries, prepared in the oven, of course, I'm hooked on those.

Grover said...

Ah, thanks for clearing that up for me!

Maryann Miller said...

Grover, glad you came back for another visit. I was really surprised that you had never heard of sweet potato casserole. Not popular where you live?

Pat, I popped over to your blog. Cute post about yodeling. I've often thought that could be fun.

Grover said...

No, sorry I'd never heard of it before this week! I live in the UK though, so we don't have Thanksgiving :)

Huntress said...

Yam/Sweet potatoes are fantastic baked as you would an ordinary potato. They don't even need butter.

Makes my mouth water just thinking' about it :)