In the produce department, confusion reigns when it comes to yams and sweet potatoes. Which is which? Indeed, the difference is more than just vocabulary!
True yams originated in West Africa and are one of the oldest vegetables known to man; they’re not common in the US but can be found in markets that carry products from the Caribbean.
Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are native to the New World; they’re not potatoes at all but members of the morning glory family. About 75 years ago, enterprising Louisiana farmers began marketing their softer, moister sweet potatoes as “yams” to distinguish their crops from the paler-skinned, drier-textured tubers grown in the Northeast. In the US today, the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are often used interchangeably to refer to a range of tubers with pointy ends, ruddy skin and delectably sweet flesh.
Here at Earthbound Farm, we produce the Garnet and Jewel varieties, which are commonly called yams but are really sweet potatoes. No matter what you call them, however, they’re delicious and nutritious! Both varieties have red skin and orange flesh that’s moist, soft and sweet when cooked. Other varieties with yellow flesh are drier; when choosing a variety for your recipe, keep the desired texture of the dish in mind.
Why choose organic sweet potatoes?
- Sweet potatoes are #38 on the Environmental Working Group's "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce," a list of produce that’s been found to carry the most pesticide residues when grown conventionally.
- At Earthbound Farm, we grow our organic sweet potatoes without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, using sustainable farming methods that protect the environment and help keep pesticides out of our soil, air, water and food supply.
- We believe that produce has more flavor when grown organically because of the health and vitality of the rich soil — and this is especially true of tubers like sweet potatoes, which grow beneath the soil’s surface.
- WhatsOnMyFood.org from the Pesticide Action Network shows you searchable results for vegetables like sweet potatoes and a wide range of other organic and conventional foods. It’s an easy-to-use and empowering tool for learning about pesticide residues and their health effects for all of us.
How to select and store sweet potatoes
- Look for sweet potatoes that are hard and heavy for their size, with smooth, firm skins and no cracks, sprouts or bruises.
- Sweet potatoes have a short shelf life due to their high sugar content. Store them in a cool, dark, well-ventilated spot (ideally around 55 degrees F) for up to 2 weeks.
- Don’t refrigerate your sweet potatoes! Low temperatures accelerate conversion of their natural sugars to starch, which robs them of flavor.
Tips for using sweet potatoes
- Sweet potatoes are extremely versatile. You can prepare them just about any way you might cook potatoes: bake, steam, boil, roast, grill, sauté or fry them.
- The moist, orange-fleshed varieties — Beauregard, Garnet and Jewel — are suitable for both sweet and savory dishes. They make an excellent substitute for pumpkin.