Key Ingredient


Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Ingredient of the week
An orange yam, left, contrasts with a pale sweet potato.


With Thanksgiving just around the corner, yams are filling grocery bins. These golden-orange potatoes are a staple of the Thanksgiving feast in the form of baked and candied-yam recipes.

The basics: What we have come to identify as yams are really a moist-flesh variety of sweet potato. Producers wanted to differentiate this type of sweet potato from the common, white-skinned, dry-flesh sweet potato, so they came up with the name yam, adapted from the African word nyami, which refers to a starchy root in the true yam family.

The orange sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family, while true yams are of a different species entirely. Sweet potatoes are native to Central America and thrive in tropical climates. They are grown commercially in the United States, mainly in California and the Southern states.

Sweet potatoes are a great source of vitamins A and C and beta-carotene.

Selecting: Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and heavy for their size. Make sure the skin is smooth and bright, free of soft spots and blemishes. They come in various knobby or elongated sizes, and shape is not an indicator of taste or quality.

Storing: Sweet potatoes should be stored unrefrigerated in a cool and dry place, but they can be refrigerated unwrapped for a week or so if need be.

Use: Orange-flesh sweet potatoes are most often made into a sticky sweet side dish for the Thanksgiving table. But they can also be used in soups, mixed with other root vegetables, added to a stew or casserole or simply mashed with cream and butter. Of course, sweet potato pie is a classic dessert, but try using puréed sweet potatoes in quick-bread recipes, puddings, cakes and even ice cream.

Where to buy: The yam variety of sweet potato is available year-round, but is harvested fresh in the fall and winter months. Prices run $1.39 to $1.99 a pound, but look for sales leading up to Thanksgiving.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga is
a free-lance food writer. Contact her
online through

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