What’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato? Like so many things, it depends on who you ask.
Native to South America, the sweet potato was first cultivated over 5000 years ago. Christopher Columbus encountered them on his expedition to the New World. George Washington grew them on the grounds of Mount Vernon and as a late season crop with a long shelf life, the sweet potato became an important trade and sustenance crop in Colonial America. It was about this time the yam/sweet potato confusion began.
When slaves arrived in America, sweet potatoes were an important dietary staple. They nicknamed the starchy root vegetable “nyami,” after a fleshy tuber native to their homeland. Although the two vegetables have little in common, the nickname, later abbreviated to “yam” stuck, and generations-long confusion was established.
The original yam, rough-skinned and lacking the sweetness of the
American “yam,” is common in South America, the West Indies, and Africa,
but is not often found in the United States. Although the “new” name is
still commonly used here, the USDA requires that packaging labeled as
yams must also identify the contents as sweet potatoes.
Whew. I’m glad we’ve got that settled. Whatever you call it, the sweet potato is more popular than ever, with over 2.7 billion pounds produced in the United States in 2011. North Carolina is the leading producer, providing nearly 40% of the national yield.
It’s no wonder demand has skyrocketed. Sweet potatoes are packed with
vitamins A, C, potassium and calcium. Because of its high fiber content
and nuanced flavor, is it increasingly taking the place of white
potatoes on restaurant menus. Baked or boiled, mashed or sliced into
chips and fried, it is right at home on any plate.
As an ingredient, its flexibility is unmatched. In recipes calling for not just potatoes, but other root vegetables, this vibrant and flavorful favorite works well in soups, casseroles and other savory dishes. But is is also right at home as a sweet anchor for pancakes, muffins or cakes. And, of course, at this time of year, sweet potato pie is a hallmark of the season.
Call them yams or call them sweet potatoes, but keep the pantry stocked. This superfood is guilt-free, versatile and easy to love.
Sweet Potato Pie
- 2 cup pureed sweet potato
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup half-and-half
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 9” pie crust
Combine sweet potato, butter, brown sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl and beat at medium speed until combined and smooth.
Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes or until a knife inserted into center comes out clean.
Serve at room temperature.