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Sweet potatoes and yams -- Aren't they the same thing?
(CNN) -- Most Americans associate yams with Thanksgiving, covered with melted marshmallows (sometimes known as Candied Yams) or, perhaps, served as a piping hot Sweet Potato pie. Yams in Sweet Potato pie? Are they the same vegetable? Well -- yes and no.
"Technically speaking there really isn't a difference, they're interchangeable," explained Holly Clegg, Louisiana's Sweet Potato spokesperson. "For marketing purposes we distinguish sweet potatoes as Lousiana Yams".
The yams known to North America are really sweet potatoes. Like ordinary potatoes, sweet potatoes are in the tuber family.
True yams are from tropical and subtropical regions of the world and tend to be larger in size and whiter in flesh than the yams known and loved throughout the United States. True yams contain more starch and less sugar than sweet potatoes -- and they must be cooked before eaten. Yams have been around for centuries in places such as China and Japan. However, only in times of harsh famine have the people taken to digging them up and eating them.
If you explore food markets when you travel, you may notice a difference between sweet potatoes found in the markets of New York and those sold in Louisiana. That's because there are two varieties grown in the United States. They are best known as "soft"and "firm". Those farmed up North, mostly "firm", tend to be drier, more mealy, and yellow in flesh. Southerners indulge in the second type, "soft", which is higher in sugar, moister, and has a bright orange flesh color. Most often it is the "soft" type which we refer to as a yam.
For purposes of this article, when discussing yams we are referring to the interchangeble yams/sweet potatoes known to North Americans -- not tropical root yams.
Most sweet potatoes are about the size of a medium potato. They come in a variety of shapes ranging from round to pointed.
Both "firm" and "soft" sweet potatoes can be used in almost any cooking method. Fresh sweet potatoes can be boiled, baked, fried or mashed. They may also be used in baking breads and cakes. Sweet potatoes can be made into a starchy meal or dried for preservation.
Store fresh sweet potatoes in a cool, dry pantry. A temperature of 55 to 65 degrees F is ideal. You should not store sweet potatoes in the refrigerator; low temperatures can cause flavor loss. It is recommended that fresh sweet potatoes be used within a week or two, however, they may be stored for up to one month.
No matter how sweet potatoes are prepared they are very nutritious -- the number one vegetable for nutrition, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. Sweet potatoes provide twice the daily recommended allowance of Vitamin A. They also provide more than one third of the daily requirements of Vitamin C. This little veggie is also an important source of beta carotene, vitamin B6, iron, potassium and fiber. Sweet potatoes are more nutritious if cooked with the skin on.
If as a child you disliked candied yams, as an adult you may find the diversity of the sweet potato is sure to please the palate. Sweet potatoes are available year round -- and there are many recipes other than those frequently seen during the holiday season.
"From cakes to casseroles and soups to breads, the use of sweet potatoes are limitless," boasts Holly Clegg, whose health conscious 'Trim and Terrific' cookbook series made her Louisiana's first choice for sweet potato spokesperson.
Clegg's recipes are quick and easy to incorporate into mainstream lifestyles.
Even people who don't like sweet potatoes can use them in baking breads, like the Cranberry Yam Bread from Clegg's latest cookbook, "Meals on the Move, Rush Hour Recipes."
If your looking for something low-fat or low-sodium, the sweet potato fulfills both requirements. Both low-calorie and "Sugar buster" diets recommend sweet potatoes as a substitute for other vegetables such as rice, pasta and even corn.
"The versatility plus the added health benefits make sweet potatoes a great addition to any meal any time of day," sums up Clegg.
LA Sweet Potato Commission
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