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Sweet Potatoes vs Yams

Sweet potatoes in the market are a relatively recent occurrence. By that, I mean they've only started appearing in the last five years or so. As a crop they prefer sandy soil and warm temperatures so they aren’t a natural for our soil and climate. However, our farmers like a good challenge and while it took them a couple of years, they overcame the hurdles to growing large, tasty, tubers.

Before going any further, there is something that I have to clear up. Most of you think that you know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, but you have been deceived. Sweet potatoes are not a type of yam, and yams are not a type of sweet potato. They are both tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related and actually don’t have a lot in common. Yams are native to Africa and Asia and are related to lilies. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier. You are likely only to find them in international and specialty markets, if at all. Sweet potatoes are the vegetable that you find in our grocery stores and farmers markets.

Sweet potatoes come from the Morning Glory family. Of the numerous varieties grown in the U.S., there are two major types– firm sweet potatoes, which have golden skin and paler flesh, and soft sweet potatoes, which have copper skin and orange flesh. The firm varieties cook up firm and a little waxy, the soft varieties are creamy, fluffy and moist. Firm varieties were the first to be grown in the U.S. When we started growing the soft varieties, someone felt that there was a need to call them something different and decided on “yams”. This was a marketing decision, not a botanical one.

Affection for sweet potatoes varies in my family from “I love them” to “they are okay” to “I think I’ll pass”. Having said that there is one sweet potato recipe that everyone in my family loves and that is Paul Prudhomme’s recipe for Sweet Potato Pecan Pie.

Make sure to use the soft variety of sweet potato for the velvety filling which then gets topped with a chewy, caramel-ly pecan topping. Naturally you will want to finish it off with a dollop of whipped cream made from Garry’s Meadow Fresh cream. Sweet potatoes can be found at Denison Farms, Sun Gold Farm and DeNoble Farm.

With only two markets remaining in the 2016 season, I know that you will be stocking up on your favorite market products. Be sure that you have sweet potatoes on your shopping list.

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