Saturday, November 22, 2014

potatoes are cheaper

See those big, unusual vegetables piled up and ready for market? Do they look familiar? I didn't think so, because you have probably never seen them before. Those things are called "yams." 

Look at my giant yam!
Yams are part of the species of flowering plants called "monocots." This group of over 59,000 species includes orchids, lilies and tulips, as well as wheat, sugar cane and bamboo. Yams are native to Africa and Asia. They can grow to up to four feet in length and weigh in the neighborhood of 150 pounds. They have a rough skin, which can be difficult to peel and tough white flesh, which softens when cooked. They are rarely sold — or even seen — in the United States.

So, what are those neon orange things surrounded by mini-marshmallows, brown sugar and a boatload of butter that Grandma prepares every Thanksgiving? Um, they're sweet potatoes. I don't care what Grandma says, or what you've been told. They are sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes aren't even in the same plant family as yams. Sweet potatoes are related to the morning glory and the popular Asian vegetable water spinach (not actually spinach) and come from the plant species of "dicots," as opposed to "monocots."* The oranges ones, the yellow ones, as well as the exotic purple ones — they are sweet potatoes, too. Hell, sweet potatoes are only distantly related to other varieties of potatoes. 

Bruce doesn't know
what he's talking about.
When did the confusion start? When slaves from Africa were brought to the United States, they called the misshapen potato with the orange flesh "yams" because they resembled the true yams from their native land, though much smaller. Over the years, the name stuck. In order to reinforce "truth in advertising," The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that commercially grown and marketed sweet potatoes labeled with the term "yam" must also be accompanied by the term "sweet potato."

This week, when you are filling your shopping cart with all the fixings for a traditional Thanksgiving feast, know that those things that you're passing off to your family as "yams," are nothing more than sweet potatoes. No matter what you or the signs in the produce section or even Bruce® says. They ain't yams.

Good luck trying to convince Grandma, though.

* If you are really interested, you can read more about dicots and monocots here. Or you can invite a botanist to Thanksgiving dinner.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for clearing that up. You neglected to mention that Grandmas should quit putting marshmallows on those orange things, though it's possible that's just my personal opinion.