Jay asks: What’s the difference between a Yam and a Sweet Potato? Can I use them interchangeably?
Yams and sweet potatoes are both fleshy, orange tubers, that’s true, but you’d be hard pressed to find a REAL YAM in a regular supermarket. For years, food companies have been putting sweet potatoes into cans and mislabeling them “yams.”
The confusion between yams and sweet potatoes probably began in the early 1950’s when Louisiana sweet potato growers started using the term “yam” as a marketing tool. The Food and Drug Administration requires that canned yams also have “sweet potato” on the label.
Yams are a starchy tuberous tropical vegetable native to Asia and Africa. They are very bland and very, very dry when cooked. Occasionally, you’ll find yams (sometimes) in Latin American, Japanese or African grocery stores, but more often than not, they are actually sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes come in several sizes and colors (yellow, orange, red, brown, purple and beige). Darker sweet potatoes tend to be more flavorful.
• Louisiana: The standard supermarket sweet potato. Moist and delicately sweet.
• Garnet and Jewel: Smaller, with deep orange-red skins and flesh.
• Jersey: Light in color and a bit drier than other sweet potatoes.
Sweet potatoes may look hearty, but they’re actually quite perishable. Look for smooth, bruise-free skins with pointed ends. Use them within a week of buying and store them in a cool, dry place.
To (finally!) answer your question, Mama wouldn’t use real yams (if you find them) and sweet potatoes interchangeably because yams are so dry and basically flavorless. You can fry yams into chips, but they are better suited for stews or soups that have a lot of liquid.
Here’s a terrific sweet potato recipe… enjoy!