This months’ vegetable is the Sweet Potato….or is it the Yam? Many people call them by both names today and they also did during Colonial times. But there is a difference in sweet potatoes and yams. Actually they are not even related because they are two different species of root vegetables.
I wasn’t aware of a difference until I got married and planned to fix ‘candied sweet potatoes’ for our Thanksgiving Dinner. My husband immediately recognized the difference and said they were yams. Their color was different than what he was familiar with from his family dinners. Needless to say, from that point forward I’ve always made sure I bought sweet potatoes, and now I think I really like them better.
The varieties of sweet potatoes will generally all have the same shape and size: tapered at the ends and are usually smaller than yams. In the United States there are two main varieties: one has white flesh that would be considered a creamy color, golden skin, and a more crumbly texture; the other variety has an orange flesh with darker skin, more copper colored, and is sweet and soft. Many confuse this particular variety as a “yam”.
Yams, however, are native to Asia, tropical regions—primarily in South America, Africa, and the Caribbean. These are starchy tubers with skin that is almost black and bark-like. The flesh can be white, purple, or red and include many varieties. Even though they are becoming more visible in the United States, they are a popular vegetable in Latin American and Caribbean markets and worldwide you can probably count over 150 varieties of the yam.
Okay. That’s the main difference, but we want to concentrate on the Sweet Potato, so let’s learn more.
Sweet potatoes are one of the oldest vegetables known and enjoyed by man. They are actually native to Central America, but relics discovered in Peruvian caves show they were probably enjoyed in the Americas hundreds of years ago. Christopher Columbus introduced sweet potatoes to Europe in 1492, and by the 16th century they were introduced to other parts of the world by both Spanish explores and the Portuguese. Also during that timeframe, cultivation of sweet potatoes began in the southern United States. I’m sure our ancient ancestors did not grasp the nutritional value of this interesting vegetable, but it became a main staple food in early American eating.
Many people with diabetes are prohibited from eating regular potatoes but can enjoy sweet potatoes and find that this delicious food is helpful for controlling blood sugar regulation. My mother-in-law can enjoy sweet potatoes whereas she is very limited with regular potatoes. We’ve even peeled and sliced them, sprinkled or tossed them with a little olive oil and cinnamon and put them on a cookie sheet in the broiler just long enough to cook. What a great treat and so much better than greasy french fried potatoes!
Actually, sweet potatoes are a native crop to North Carolina and grow best in the coastal plains areas. It shouldn’t be any surprise then at that the sweet potato is the official vegetable of North Carolina. Nor it is hard to recognize that American Indians were growing sweet potatoes when Columbus discovered America in 1492. Needless to say, these vegetables have been around since prehistoric times, and there are some scientists who believe that even dinosaurs ate these delicious vegetables.
The North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission lists 9 particular varieties: Beauregard, Puerto Rico, Covington, Hernandez, Japanese, Purple, Murasaki, and O’Henry. You will be more likely to find the following varieties, though, in North Carolina vegetable marts or grocery stores: Carolina Rose, Beauregard, Carolina Ruby, Cordner, Hernandez, Jewel, and NC Porto Rico 198. If you’re able to locate these or other varieties, I hope you’ll try them.
Sweet potatoes have a wealth of the carotenoid pigments, thus providing key antioxidants for health and wellness, as well as anti-inflammatory benefits as well. You might not think of sweet potatoes as having phytonutrients but they do, specifically fibrinogen that is required for successful blood clotting. A sweet potato is also very high in Vitamin A that has a vital role not only in vision, but bone development and immune function. Researchers continue to learn more about the health-related benefits of sweet potatoes and in some lab studies show that sugar-related and starch-related molecules called glycosides also have antibacterial and antifungal properties. The research continues in this area, so don’t be surprised if you hear more and more about how good sweet potatoes are for a healthy diet.
Did you know that sweet potatoes have their own unique storage proteins? They do and they are called sporamins. These sporamins contain unique antioxidant properties that help prevent damage to cells. Sweet potatoes provide a colorful addition to your meals.
Indeed these unique vegetables are low in sodium, are cholesterol free, fat free, high in fiber, and contain not just vitamin A, but Vitamin C and E as well as manganese which also help optimal thyroid function. You can enjoy sweet potatoes in a variety of ways—baked, boiled, mashed, or broiled (maybe even raw if you like your veggies that way). This amazing vegetable with its complex carbohydrate releases energy at a steady pace so there are no sugar highs or lows, and it tastes delicious.
You can enjoy sweet potatoes with your meal OR as dessert. Just recognize that Sweet Potato Pie is NOT the same as Pumpkin Pie. Our daughter loves Pumpkin Pie but when she was little, we enjoyed a meal out at a Cafeteria in Georgia, and she was excited to get what she thought was pumpkin pie only to find out in the first bite that it wasn’t pumpkin pie but sweet potato pie!
You can find this nutritious vegetable, the Sweet Potato, year round. I hope you will add them to your menus and enjoy them for your health.
(Sources: www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/19/difference-between-sweet-potatoes-and-yams; http://homecooking.about.com/od/howtocookvegetables/a/sweetpotatodiff.htm; http://www.whfoods.com/sweet potatoes; www.farm-fresh-produce.com/spvarieties.html; www.ncsweetpotatoes.com )