In the U.S., we often confuse our yams with orange sweet potatoes, but the two are not even horticulturally related.
Yams are long, cylindrical tubers, often sporting outshoots called
“toes.” They have a rough outer skin and a flesh similar in texture to
that of a turnip
(though color and texture vary amongst the yam species).
hardy root offers an earthy taste and little sweetness, though most
varieties contain more natural sugar and moisture than sweet potatoes
the United States, yams are frequently confused with orange-colored
sweet potatoes, though the tubers are not horticulturally related.
Because yam growth spans the globe, it’s tough to pinpoint their
origin. However, we do know they have been cultivated in Africa and
Asia since at least 50,000 BC, where supporting livestock and growing
leafy green vegetables presented a climactic challenge.
confusion between the yam and orange sweet potatoes in the United
States stems from the early 20th century. Growers wanted to avoid
confusion between the orange-fleshed sweet potato and the white-fleshed
that Americans were familiar with, and took the word “yam” from
the African word for this type of potato, “nyami.”
There are between 150-200 varieties of yams, with flesh that
varies from off-white to yellow and pink to purple and skin that varies
from white to pink to brownish-black.
Some specific, common yam varieties include the Hawaiian yam
, the sweet yam
and the Korean yam
Yams are sold primarily fresh in the U.S.—most canned “yams”
are actually sweet potatoes.
• Yams are hard to come by in the
United Sates, though sweet potatoes are often (incorrectly) labeled
“yams”. If you find yams at your grocery store and are set on
purchasing true yams, you should consider inquiring as to the origins
to make sure you aren’t getting a sweet potato variety.
• Yams sold in refrigerated produce sections should be avoided if possible, because the cold temperatures can alter the taste.
Yams can be found in specialty markets and those that sell Latin
American and Caribbean foods. They are often chopped into large chunks
and wrapped in plastic because yams can grow very large (sometimes
reaching 7 feet in length).
• Look for yams that feel firm with tight skin and firm flesh, without blemishes, cracks, or soft spots.
Uncooked yams shouldn’t be refrigerated, but can be kept unrefrigerated
for up to two weeks if stored in a cool, dry place. They should be
stored loose (not wrapped up in a bag, which could trap moisture and
encourage rotting). If exposed to temperatures above 50ºF, yams are
more likely to decay and sprout.
yams can be frozen for 10-12 months if packed in an airtight container
with at least ½ inch of extra space, and they can be kept refrigerated
for up to 3 days.
• All yams (with the exception of the
Japanese mountain yam, nagaimo) must be cooked before they are eaten
because they contain toxins when raw that will make their consumers
• They can be cooked just like potatoes: steamed
, boiled and mashed, fried or baked