Potatoes, sweet potatoes and yams.
All three are consumed by humans and other animals; all three have significant health benefits (even when doused in butter and marshmallow cream); all three have a vague resemblance to each other.
But that’s all, folks.
Potatoes are related to tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and tomatillos.
Sweet potatoes are related to Morning Glories (the flower).
Yams are related to… yams.
All three are gnarly, root-tuber looking vegetables, but a yam is a tuber, a sweet potato is a storage root and a potato is a stem tuber…. and all three from different botanical families.
The confusion of the ‘sweet potato’ and ‘potato’ names we can put squarely on the shoulders of old Chris Columbus and other early explorers who forgot their Berlitz Travel Dictionaries and confused the early translations. Earliest reference to the sweet potato is in the 1775 version of the Oxford English dictionary.
The confusion of the ‘sweet potato’ and ‘yam’ names we can put squarely on the shoulders of the production / marketing types in the middle of the 1900’s. Up until then sweet potatoes had been of the dry, light-fleshed variety. When the moist, orange-fleshed variety was introduced, some bright spark decided the American consumer wasn’t capable of grasping that a vegetable could come in two colors and decided to label the orange one ‘yam’.
My grandmother successfully navigated a garden filled with green and yellow string beans, red and white radishes, purple and green cabbages….
But she couldn’t be trusted to handle both white and orange sweet potatoes.
Yams are a staple in Latin America, Asia and Africa. They are difficult to peel, can get very large, must be cooked before eating and take twice as long to grow as sweet potatoes (180 – 360 days for yams, 90 – 150 days for sweet potatoes).
Sweet potatoes most often are the size of a large potato.
I love sweet potatoes.
I’ve never tasted a yam.
Sweet potatoes were very popular in the early 1900’s, but started to fall out of favor during the middle decades (maybe due to the confusion over their name)…
Except for that horrid, candied, sweet, marshmallow thing that used to turn up next to the green bean casserole on holiday tables.
They are low in calories, high in vitamins and minerals and are finding there way back onto our tables.
And they are very versatile – much like their namesake, the potato.
You can simple bake them or fry them of course.
Or do Sweet Potato Oven Fries
These just happened to be the white variety. I think what was so surprising to me was they looked like potatoes but the taste and texture was of the orange-fleshed sweet potato.
2 sweet potatoes
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp course black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
red pepper flakes if you use them, too hot for me
Slice potatoes in half the long way, then in half the long way again. Then cut into chunks 1 – 1 1/2″ (4cm) wide.
Put remaining ingredients into large bowl and mix well. Add potatoes and toss, coating thoroughly.
Oven: Arrange potatoes on baking sheet with rim (I use my trusty, round pizza pan) Bake at 400F for 30 minutes. You can turn once if you like to fuss but I usually don’t bother. Remove from oven and serve.
Barbecue Grill: Put them into an old metal pie plate or cake tin or foil barbecue container. Cook on barbecue (grill) for 30 minutes or until done… and you will need to stir them with a long-handled wooden spoon occasionally as they tend to develop ‘hot spots’ and can get a little crispy.
A few weeks ago I did Sweet Potatoes Anna
And if you really insist on adding sweet to the sweet potato….
This used to be my contribution to the holiday table when I lived in the US. Now I make a smaller version – for 2 (with enough left for another meal).
Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes
24oz (1 1/2 lb, 750gr) sweet potatoes, 2 large
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbs butter
pinch of nutmeg
Peel sweet potatoes and cut into 3/4 inch (2cm) rounds (the short way). Cook in boiling, salted water until just tender, easily pierced with a knife. Remove and drain.
While potatoes cook heat the syrup, butter and brown sugar to boiling in a small saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
To assemble: Lay the potatoes in a baking dish just large enough to hold them all easily. Don’t fuss with the layers but do spoon a bit of syrup over each potato slice. Pour the rest of the syrup over the top and bake, uncovered, 350F (175F) for 30 minutes. Baste once after 15 minutes with the syrup from the bottom of the baking dish. Serve.
BTW, the US Department of Agriculture now requires that all sweet potatoes that are labeled ‘Yams’ must also contain a label identifying them as ‘Sweet Potatoes’.
Boy, that sure clears everything up!
Added 27/12: In case I didn’t make this all perfectly clear:
If it vaguely resembles a potato, is about the size of a large potato and you got it in North America or Europe it’s a sweet potato.
If it weighs 15 pounds, you can’t peel it without cooking first and you bought it in Asia, Africa or South America, it’s a yam.