Like strangers on the same page of a phone book, sweet potatoes and white potatoes share nothing more than a common last name. Both potatoes are, of course, plants. But sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family, while white potatoes belong to the nightshade family – sometimes called the potato family. More to the point, sweet potatoes are roots of the dicotyledonous plant; white potatoes are underground stems (tubers) of the potato plant.
Yams, meanwhile, belong to the yam family, and are tubers of the monocotyledon plant. But even though they are tubers, yams have a closer lineage to lilies, than to either the white potato or the sweet potato. The confusion over yams stems from their origins. Yams are tropical, and largely cultivated in Africa and the Caribbean. As African slaves were brought to America, they came to call the American sweet potato, “yams,” as it resembled their native tubers. True yams, though, are starchier, drier, and not as sweet, as sweet potatoes.
In the 1930s, Southern farmers made a confusing situation that much worse. Sweet potatoes grown in the South bear a darker skin and boast a sweeter flavor when compared to varieties grown in the North. They are also typically softer than their Northern counterparts. Seeking to capitalize on their softer, sweeter version, Southern farmers began marketing their product as “yams.” Though you may see them sold as yams, the Jewel, Beauregard, and Garnet are all Southern sweet potatoes.
All this confusion, however, is largely academic. No one is about to confuse sweet potatoes with white potatoes. And true yams are hardly ever sold in normal grocery stores. Indeed, I found these yams when I was shopping for membrillo in an international store. Curious, I decided to bake them along with my normal sweet potato. The result was a colorful centerpiece that doubled as an excellent side dish!
Roasted Yam and Sweet Potato Fries
PREP TIME: 5 minutes
COOK TIME: 45 minutes
YIELD: 4 to 6 servings
WHAT TO GRAB:
1 North American sweet potato, orange flesh
1 South American yam, white flesh
1 African yam, yellow flesh
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 teaspoon pepper
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. Preheat the oven to 420 degrees.
2. Skin the yams and sweet potatoes, and cut them in half, vertically. Laying them flat, make vertical cuts at half-inch intervals. In a large mixing bowl, combine the wedges with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well.
3. Lay the wedges on two baking sheets, so that the wedges do not touch or overcrowd. Roast for 45 minutes, turning the potatoes after 25 minutes.
4. Serve warm!