The terms sweet potato and yam seem to be used interchangeably, but are they the same plant? The answer is no. The sweet potato comes from the Americas (Peru and Ecuador), and the yam is indigenous to Africa and Asia.
Yams are such a staple food that they are celebrated in East African culture. Most of the world’s yam crops are grown in Africa. They can get as large as 150 lbs or so, and have a scaly outer skin. They are starchier and drier than the sweet potato. And unless you are shopping in an international market, chances are what are labeled yams here in the U.S. are really sweet potatoes.
The sweet potato is indigenous to the South American continent. And like its distant cousin the potato, originally comes from Peru. Eventually it made its way to North America. When it was introduced in the South, the slaves at the time called it nyami because of it’s similarity to the yam. The name was shortened to yam, and it stuck. So much so that in the U.S.D.A made it mandatory that any product labeled sweet potato must also have the label yam.
Sweet potatoes are sweet, and usually moist. They are best roasted and mashed. Or chopped into cubes, roasted, and made into salads. They can be pureed like a regular potato. Of course, American holiday dinners include Candied Yams, which are mashed sweet potatoes baked with a marshmallow topping.
A sweet potato can also be fried, but whatever way you serve it, they are just darn good for you. They have high vitamin A content, are high in fiber, vitamin B6, and manganese. When eaten with complimentary foods, a complete protein can be achieved, in the same manner as eating rice and beans. Personally, I like to bake them in the oven until they are mushy inside, and just eat them with salt and Earth Balance margarine. Delicious.