By Elke Probkevitz

You say sweet potato, I say yam. But is there really a difference? Yes! Sweet potatoes and yams are both root vegetables but are actually not related at all. What we know as “yams,” however, are really a variety of sweet potatoes. In the U.S. the markets have labeled the orange-fleshed ones as yams to distinguish them from the white-fleshed ones, when in fact they are both sweet potatoes. Whether they are yams or sweet potatoes, they are a delicious side dish with many health benefits and uses. Let’s get to the root of these vegetables and find out what they really are:

Yams. The yam is a starchy tuber that has white, purple, or reddish flesh with a black bark-like skin. There are many varieties: the Chinese yam, Globe yam (from India), and Japanese yam to name a few. Yams are native to Africa, Asia, and other tropical regions and can grow up to five feet long. Yams are an important food because they can be stored for a long time, useful when food is scarce. Yams may be peeled, boiled, and mashed and they can be dried and ground into a powder that is cooked into porridge.

Sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are tapered at the ends and have one general shape and size. They are grown in tropical regions of the U.S. and come in two main varieties in America: the golden-skinned potatoes with white creamy flesh and a crumbly texture, and the copper-skinned potatoes with an orange flesh. Garnet, Jewel, and Beauregard are all called yams but are orange-fleshed, orangey-brown-skinned sweet potatoes. The purple sweet potato, or Okinawan, has a vibrant purple flesh that becomes smooth and sweet when baked. The color indicates it is full of antioxidants, much like blueberries.

Health benefits. Sweet potatoes are higher in protein, although neither contain a significant amount. They both are high in carbohydrates, which makes them a good fuel source, and fiber, with sweet potatoes being a greater source. Sweet potatoes have a very high amount of vitamin A, while yams are very low in the vitamin. They are both a good source of vitamin C, B6, and thiamine, and are low in fat.

How to prepare. You can bake, boil, steam, roast, or even microwave sweet potatoes. When baked whole, the peel is left on and all the flesh becomes soft. When roasting, it is usually peeled, then cut into rounds, chunks, or strips like fries. Boil or steam in chunks for faster cooking time. Wrap sweet potatoes in plastic wrap before microwaving.

Serving ideas. Roast chunks of sweet potato with maple syrup, butter, and lemon juice, or toss wedges of sweet potato with chili-garlic paste and soy sauce and roast till caramelized for an Asian spin. Use in a mash instead of the traditional potato for a sweeter, healthier side, or combine with egg and top with a pecan-brown sugar topping for a sweet potato casserole that can also be a dessert. Slice thin and roast for sweet-potato chips or layer with a creamy sauce and breadcrumb topping to make a gratin. v

Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes With Toasted Marshmallows


9 12-oz. sweet potatoes

1 Tbsp. canola oil

8 Tbsp. unsalted butter substitute

â…“ cup pure grade B maple syrup

¾ tsp. ground cinnamon


cayenne pepper

3 cups mini marshmallows


Preheat oven to 350°F. Rub sweet potatoes with oil and prick all over with a fork. Roast potatoes directly on oven rack for about an hour until tender, with sheet of foil on the bottom of oven to protect from drips. Let cool slightly to handle, then split each one lengthwise. Scrape flesh into large saucepan. Transfer 12 potato skins to baking sheet. Mash and whip flesh with whisk over medium heat until slightly dry, 5 minutes. Add butter substitute, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Season with salt and cayenne and whisk till smooth.

Spoon sweet-potato mixture into skins and press marshmallows all over. Bake in center of oven on 350° for 10—15 minutes. Turn oven to broil and broil 1 minute until marshmallows are toasted, then serve.

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