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Oh you delicious yams you! Potatoes are nice and sweet potatoes are perfectly pleasant, but yams know the score. I’m not exactly sure which score I’m referring to, but yams probably know it is all I’m saying. They get forgotten quite a bit except for around maybe Thanksgiving, but that’s such a shame as yams are excellent vegetables to have on your dinner table. Need some more convincing? Well good, because I’m about to do just that! Today’s nutrition facts spotlight is on the mighty yam, so let’s get started!

Yam Culture and History

Despite being one of the most-grown crops in the world, we don’t have clear evidence to shed light on the yam’s origin. We do know for certain that they were growing in Africa and Asia since 50,000 BC and that eventually they made their way to North and South America where they are still grown today, but no one country or region can claim ownership of the starchy wonders.

One of the biggest bits of confusion around yams here in the US is that we frequently just assign the name yams to anything we even think are yams, most notably sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes and yams are different vegetables despite being so similar in appearance. The core difference is that the insides of sweet potatoes are orange while the inside of yams are either whitish, purple, or red. Plus, yams have more natural sugar and moisture when compared to sweet potatoes.

Right now we can take a look at the world’s production of yams and see that they have the greatest impact in Africa where 95% of all yams are grown. Without yams, Africa would be in dire straits, er, I mean more dire straits I suppose. At the very least their straits would be less than optimal, so thank yams for that.

The fun thing about vegetables is that despite being just food to many of us, they’re so much more for others, hence why we get something as awesome as a Yam Festival every year around August in Ghana. This is not to be confused with the New Yam Festival in Nigeria, though the two festivals seem to share the common bond of saying prayers of thanks and distributing yams to everyone. I am totally on board with these festivals. Let’s bring a yam festival to the US!

Health Benefits of Yams

Yams, like sweet potatoes, will forever be compared to normal potatoes. This is perfectly fine since they may have a slightly different flavor but they can essentially be utilized in the same manner of cooking. Yams are less starchy than potatoes as they have fewer carbohydrates, so those looking to cut back a bit from potatoes without sacrificing the same basic food should look into yams as a simple and effective alternative.

While root and tuber vegetables aren’t generally good sources of protein, yams defy this notion and provide a decent amount, actually being one of the primary protein sources in Africa. However, yams just aren’t strong enough to handle all the protein needs, so it’s important to balance your diet with more protein-rich foods like beans and leafy greens.

Thankfully, yams are at least very low in saturated fat and sodium, which means they aren’t a problem for those looking to reduce cholesterol and the risk of heart disease, plus they have a high vitamin C and vitamin B6 value as well as high levels of potassium, manganese, and fiber.

Still, as a starch you do want to be careful not to overdo it with yams, though like any starch they can be used for good bursts of energy now and then, so joggers or cross country runners might find that a diet with some yams in it can give them a little extra oomph without adding a lot of heavy food to their diet. Certainly something to consider, but remember to balance your diet out right. Yams are tasty but they can’t do it all on their own!

Eating More Yams

The absolute best part about yams is that they simply refuse to be boring. You can dice them up and cook them like any old vegetables, or you can cut them stringy and make yam fries like you would with potatoes or sweet potatoes. Mash them up and you get mashed yams. Cut up some chunks and toss them into soups, stews, and chowders to really fill them out, or cook the same diced pieces into a breakfast scramble for something a bit different in the morning.

I’m actually overwhelmed at the number of yam recipes and how far they cover the day’s worth of meals. You can quite literally have yams for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert without even having to stretch to make it work. You can grill them, fry them, bake them, mash them, sauté them, boil them, puree them, generally do any and everything to give them some flavor, and because they’re starchy, they soak up flavors around them rather easily. There truly is no end to their deliciousness!

But I don’t want to spend all my time yammering on (see what I did there?) when I could open things up and get your suggestions for your favorites. How do you prefer to eat yams? What is your absolute favorite yam recipe? Leave a comment and let me know! In the meantime, I have some yam-based recipe experimenting to get to!