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Sweet Potatoes and Yams: What is the Difference?

When you sit down at the Thanksgiving table you are likely to see sweet potatoes; or are they yams? Whether they are baked, fried, or smothered in marshmallows their sweet taste is delicious with ham or turkey and their abundance in the Fall makes them an ideal choice for a holiday meal. As people have become more conscious of nutrition, sweet potatoes have gained more advocates and they have become more popular as an everyday side dish. But still, are we talking about sweet potatoes, yams, or both?

The sweet potato or yam you normally buy in the grocery store or see on the menu of a restaurant are both tubers from the plant, Ipomoea batatas, a member of the morning glory family. The skin color of a sweet potato may be firm or soft, white to orange. The name yam was given to the varieties of sweet potatoes that had soft, orange flesh to distinguish them from the firm, white fleshed varieties . The choice of the name “yam” arose because these soft, orange fleshed varieties of sweet potato resembled the African vegetable called “yam”. A relative of lilies and grasses, African yams are starchier and drier than American yams and can grow up to 130 pounds. To buy the true, African yam go to an international market.

Sweet potatoes are exceptionally high in nutritional value. They are an excellent source of dietary fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, manganese, potassium, and beta-carotene. The more color in the flesh, the higher the content of beta-carotene which facilitates the production of vitamin A as well as reduces the risk of cancer. Sweet potatoes/yams may also be helpful in regulating blood sugar in diabetics. With so many good characteristics, sweet potatoes/yams should be on everyones list of preferred foods, so eat them up during the holidays and find new ways to incorporate them into meals throughout the year.

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