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Grocery

How To Tell The Difference Between Sweet Potatoes And Yams

Photo: So Delicious

Since Thanksgiving season is right around the corner, we know what time it is! Yam time! Or sweet potato time! But we also need some knowledge for that. Here are the differences between yams and sweet potatoes. What you find out might be completely surprising!

Hands up if you’ve ever used the word ‘yam’ to talk about something made with sweet potatoes. But… did you know that they’re entirely different things? It’s quite possible that all of the ‘yam’ dishes you’ve ever had were actually sweet potato dishes and you probably have never even had an actual yam.

Is your mind blown? If your answer is yes, let’s find out more about yams and sweet potatoes. Because information is power, and we love to give some power to everybody!

Yams and Sweet Potatoes: Same Thing or Different Foods?
Some variety of yams can grow up to be five feet long.

Similarities between yams and sweet potatoes

No doubt about it, some yams and some sweet potatoes look quite similar. They are both tubers or edible roots and they look quite similar in many ways, like the shape, the size, and the texture of the root – but it all depends on what variety we’re talking about.

But that is about it because sweet potato and yams are actually two different veggies. But their names are used interchangeably by markets and sometimes producers and shippers.

This reminds me of one of my favorite jokes from Buffy the Vampire Slayer: ‘It’s a sham with yams. A yam sham’ and I have to say, it’s very appropriate for the situation.

Yams and sweet potatoes – differences

According to The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission, a true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus. It’s usually imported to America from the Caribbean. And it has a rough and scaly texture. As opposed to sweet potatoes, yams are pretty low in beta-carotene.

Well, there are plenty of varieties of sweet potatoes, with different colored flesh: from white to orange and even purple. Some have orange skins, while some have red skin over orange flesh. The orange-fleshed one got to the United States a few decades ago, a while after the white fleshed one people were used to by then. Producers and shippers chose a new name for the sweet potato so that people don’t confuse the two varieties (white and orange). Red-skinned sweet potatoes ended up being called ‘yam’, from the English form of the African word ‘nyami’.

So why is it that this distinction is not emphasized in supermarkets? Probably because everybody is used to it by now. And also because of label regulations: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires that labels with the word ‘yam’ on them be accompanied by ‘sweet potato’ as well.

Yams and Sweet Potatoes: Same Thing or Different Foods?
Sweet potatoes come in all shapes, sizes, and colors.

The story of yams

Most yams come from Africa, but there are some crops coming from Asia, as well. It’s strange, but yams are a distant relative of lilies. They have varying sizes: from a regular potato size to five feet long! They’re cylindrical in shape and can have black or brown skin, tough like bark, but also white, purple or red flesh.

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Article by Ruxandra Grecu from So Delicious. View the original article here.

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Hit-Or-Miss Tastemade/Snapchat

Let’s Get It Right, Sweet Potatoes Aren’t Yams

In true capitalist form, we’ve spent years making yams and sweet potatoes synonymous due to a decades-old marketing campaign. There are two types of sweet potatoes: tubers with white flesh and those with orange flesh. The USDA started calling the latter yams to help farmers push sales, ignoring the fact that real yams, commonly found in West Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia, are completely different.

Siblings? More Like Distant Cousins

Sweet potatoes and yams are both tubers, but neither are related to potatoes or each other. There are hundreds of yam varieties, but none of them can survive in the US (so, you’ve probably never really had one).

#AfricanYams #streetmarket #lagos #Nigeria #jujufilms #ogbeniayotunde

A photo posted by Ogbeni Ayotunde (@ogbeniayotunde) on

The initial confusion took place back when African slaves mistook the white-fleshed sweet potatoes of the South for a type of their yams and we’ve been living in this confusing state of existence ever since.

The Taste Test

The African yam is typically used to make flour, but can achieve a sweetness when cooked. Both kinds of sweet potatoes live true to their namesake, boasting a candy-like taste, but the orange-fleshed variety is packed with more Vitamin A than a large carrot. If you hate carrots/your mom for making you eat them, sweet potatoes are a completely underrated substitute.

How To Stop Being So Basic With Sweet Potatoes

You don’t have to just throw sugar on them, they’re already sweet. If you embrace the more savory, natural sweetness, you can find uses for both kinds of sweet potato in salads, soups, and casseroles.

 

A photo posted by Petra (@helloitspetra) on

Instagram user @Helloitspetra

Seriously, just substitute them for potatoes in any recipe and prepare to amaze yourself while knocking off about 100 calories per potato. More adventurous types can throw some spices into the mix, if you really like confusing your tastebuds, in a surprise birthday party kind of way.

So put some respek on their name: sweet potatoes are too awesome for us to keep calling them yams.

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Hit-Or-Miss

9 Awesome Foods from Black Cultures You Need to Know

Yes, black cultures. The only universally shared experience of being black is the oppression associated with it. A multitude of diverse cultures thrive in spite of the obstacles thrown their way and in no place is this more evident than in their cuisines.

Here are some foods either originally cultivated by black people or that emerged from slave trades to embed themselves in these specific cultures.

Watermelon

watermelon

OK, let’s get this out of the way. Although watermelon has been stitched into negative narratives about black people, the fruit is rooted in African heritage. Originating in southern Africa, watermelons became domesticated farther north on the continent when extreme desertification hit Saharan Africa. Often used as a canteen of sorts in tropical regions, watermelons have been given many uses from jam to meal made of ground seeds.

Soupikandia & Okra

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Deeply embedded in southern American Creole culture is the spicy goodness that is gumbo. Many of the dish’s great qualities are attributed to French influences despite the majority of the cuisine stemming from African and Native American dishes. Gombo is the French word for okra, derived from the Luba (a Congo tribe) word ngombo. Slaves brought the vegetable to America and it acts as thickening agent in most versions of gumbo (if you’re not using okra, I have no idea why you’re calling it gumbo) and its African predecessor soupikandia.

Soupikandia has an earthier taste than the piquant gumbo and is still consumed in West African nations.

Yams (Not Sweet Potatoes)

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Unless you live in West Africa, the Caribbean, Asia, or frequent grocery stores serving those communities, you’ve probably never had a yam. When African slaves were exposed to sweet potatoes on farms and plantations, they just called the similar-looking tubers yams. Naturally, this was also exploited for financial gain in the American South and is still a marketing tool (and an example of the USDA’s laziness) used to differentiate sweet potatoes.

Real yams tend to be sweeter than sweet potatoes and can’t survive in most of the US. Depending on the variety, they can achieve a dessert-like sweetness, but are more often used to make porridge and to enhance fish stews.

Coffee

loved import coffee beans

The coffee plant has always grown wild in Ethiopia. Although there’s some beef between the nation and Yemen over the discovery and cultivation of coffee, most signs point to Ethiopia, while Yemen gets the distinction of the mocha birthplace. Origin myths from both countries involve animals getting over-caffeinated and people dramatically throwing beans into fires (Disney probably already has the movie rights).

Coffee cultivation began in Ethiopia around the 9th century and remains a major part of the country’s economy. It accounts for about 25 percent of the nation’s export earnings while supplying 15 million people with jobs.

Macadamia Nuts

Macadamia

Macadamia nuts are so special that some people lose their minds (and jobs) over simply plating them. The Bauple tree that bears the magical nut was discovered by the Kabi tribe, an Australian Aboriginal sect, around 30,000 years ago.

The macadamia nut was so treasured by the Kabi that they settled throughout the area of the rainforest where they naturally grew and traded with other tribes for high quality goods and tools.

Australian Aborigines lived largely off of bush foods until British colonizers introduced various modern cooking methods. Domestication of the macadamia nut is largely a white man’s tale, but its difficult-to-reach location and many similar, inedible sister tree nuts would make its cultivation difficult without the assistance of local Aborigines.

Sorrel

sorrel drink

Jamaican Sorrel was actually taken over from West Africa and both regions often use the hibiscus plant to make a tea-like beverage. Often combined with ginger for an added kick, sorrel is popularly drunk throughout the Caribbean during Christmas festivals.

The rich red color of the drink, along with its easy pairing with alcohol, make it a go-to beverage for celebrating on cooler winter nights.

Roti

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The farther south you travel in the West Indies, the more you start feeling like you’re in the East Indies.

Brief history lesson: when European traders and conquerors first interacted with the Indian sub-continent, they attributed races to the people currying favor toward the lighter northerners and associating the southerners (labeled Dravidians) with blackness and inferiority.

This kind of thinking made it pretty easy for the British Empire to swoop in later and stop treating Indians like people, but I digress.

Islands like Trinidad and Grenada are mostly comprised of African or Indian descendants, oftentimes a combination of the two. This, along with their close proximity to South America, results in a unique intersection of cuisines called the “roti.”

There are several types of roti, which really refers to the flatbread used to make it, but what you’ll usually get if you don’t specify is essentially a curry burrito. Chickpeas, potatoes, meat and sometimes other vegetables are wrapped in soft white flour flatbread and cooked on a tava for a subtle crispness. The flatbread itself is more pliable and flaky than most tortillas, which also makes it a popular choice for breakfast rotis.

Vatapa

Vatapa

I couldn’t possibly end this list without an Afro-Brazilian dish. As one of the most well-known cultural melting pots in the world, Brazil is certainly a mecca for fusion cuisine enthusiasts.

In the Bahia region of Brazil, which produces the most African-influenced dishes in the nation, this spicy, pungent peanut sauce is traditionally served with meat or fish. Its creation is very closely related to several ground nut stews and sauces popular in West and Central Africa.

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Recipes

Here’s How to Achieve Pumpkin Pie Excellence

Confession time.

I don’t own a pie pan.  Not a single one.  I’ve contemplated buying one on many occasions, but then I always get hung up.  Do I want glass?  Seems like the right choice, it would give me a window to the pie crust to make sure it browns correctly.  But ceramic is so much prettier, but usually more expensive.  Which leads us to metal, which is an affordable option, and a great heat conductor, but certainly not the prettiest option.  And if it’s not going to look pretty, why do I need to buy a new one anyway?

Round and round I go in my head until I give up and end up in the baking aisle at the grocery store buying another foil pie tin.

Embarrassing.  Right?  A baker without pie plates.  I should be ashamed.

So, after years and years of being pumpkin pie-free, I had to give in.  It is, after all, BF’s favorite pie.  It seemed only right..

This masterpiece is a far cry from the one you get from that can of “pumpkin pie filling” that you pick up at the store. The pie features a sweet, pumpkiny custard nestled in a tender, flaky crust.  Created and perfected by the geniuses over at Cooks Illustrated, this recipe has a “secret” ingredient (sweet potatoes) that somehow (I can only assume with magic) results in a pie with a more complex  flavor.

So, prepare yourself for the smoothest, creamiest pumpkin pie your tastebuds have ever had the pleasure of encountering.  It’s like a creamy, Thanksgiving hug for your mouth… and your tummy.

Despite being “perfected” in the Cook’s Illustrated test kitchens, I provided a few modifications.  First, I would recommend a medium-mesh sieve, as I think my “fine-mesh” was a bit too fine (granted it’s “double mesh”), causing my to arm cramp up while I desperately tried to press the mixture through.

Also, I assume due to my tiny foil pie plate, only half of the filling fit into the pie crust, which means that TECHNICALLY you could get two pumpkin pies out of this recipe, or you could use a deep dish pie plate for a nice custardy pumpkin pie.  I took a “two is better than one” stance on the issue and decided it meant I had one pie for me and one pie for the family.

Oh, and a dollop of cinnamon whipped cream never hurt anyone.

Cook’s Illustrated Pumpkin Pie  Cook’s Illustrated, December 2008

[ Printable Recipe ]

  • Your favorite pie crust (home-made or store-bought, I won’t tell)
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup drained candied yams from 15-ounce can (I could only find sweet potatoes, I know technically they’re different)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1  teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

While oven is preheating, roll pie dough to 12-inch circle about 1/8-inch thick and press into pie plate, crimping the edge when finished.  Refrigerate 15 minutes or until firm.

Now you are going to “blind bake” your pie crust.  To do this, you will want to prick holes in the bottom with a fork, then line the inside of the crust with foil.  Fill the foil with pie weights of your choice (I used coins, because I don’t own real pie weights.  That would just be silly since I don’t even own a pie plate!  If you feel silly filling your pie with pennies, you can use pie weights or uncooked beans or rice).  Bake crust on rimmed baking sheet for 15 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights, rotate plate and bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp.  Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

While pie shell is baking, whisk half and half, eggs, yolks and vanilla together in medium bowl. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in large heavy-bottomed saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat, 5 to 7 minutes.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly and mashing yams against sides of pot, until thick and shiny, 10 to 15 minutes.  If you’re not satisfied with your mashing abilities (as I was not) feel free to puree your pumpkin mixture with a blender stick.  I don’t care if it’s cheating, I still couldn’t smoosh it through my stupid sieve, so good luck if you’re relying on your “mashing” abilities.

I know this recipe has been “perfected”, but I don’t ever stir anything with raw eggs directly into something hot.  So I first whisked a cup or so of the heated pumpkin into the egg/cream mixture, and then poured all of that back into the pumpkin pan and whisked until fully incorporated.  Strain mixture through fine (OR MEDIUM)-mesh strainer set over a large bowl, using the back of a ladle or spatula to press solids through strainer.

Re-whisk mixture and transfer to your warm pre-baked pie shell.  Return pie plate (now filled with custard) still on the baking sheet to the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 degrees and continue baking until edges are set 20 to 35 minutes longer, until an instant-read thermometer inserted in center registers 175 degrees.  Transfer pie to wire rack and cool completely, 2 to 3 hours.  The pie will finish cooking with resident heat, so be sure to cool it at room temperature and not in the refrigerator.  Once cooled, you can transfer it to the refrigerator.

 

For the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoon powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Whip cream with cold bowl and cold beaters until it gets bubbly. Add powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and continue beating to desired consistency, voila.  (If you want to whip your cream even faster, make it with an immersion blender.  You’ll never go back to whisks again)

[ Pie recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen whose cookbook recently debuted ]