What Are Yams?

Yams and sweet potatoes are not related. Though you can use yams in any sweet potato recipe, they're two completely different vegetables. Learn more about yams here, and news ways to prepare them.

Yams are a vegetable native to Africa. Grown in tropical regions around the world, Yams are a root crop. Though many think they closely resemble sweet potatoes, yams are not related to the sweet potato at all.


Yams belong to the family Dioscoreacea, and are tubers most often grown on a tropical vine. The word "yam" is African for the phrase, "to eat."

There are 150 different varieties of yams, including the air-potato, the only true yam cultivated in the United States.


Yam plants bear thick tubers, climbing stems, leaves, and flowers. The greater majority of yam plants are grown in warm regions of the tropics. In Africa and New Guinea, the yam is the primary agricultural commodity. In the United States, sweet potatoes outnumber yam plants and consumption.


Yams vary in size, shape and flavor by species. The flesh of the yam can be white, yellow, pink or purple. Some yams are sweet, some are tasteless, and others are bitter. Some varieties of yams grow up to 7 feet in length, and can weigh up to 150 pounds.


Yams are a versatile vegetable, which is easy to prepare and cook. All varieties of yams can be boiled, broiled, fried, roasted or baked.


Yams are sold in the United States in chunks, sealed with a wrapping usually made of plastic. Because most varieties of yams are large in size, it is rare to find whole yams in any produce section in North America. Look for yams which are free of blemishes and bruises, and have tight, unwrinkled skins. The flesh of the yam should feel firm.


Yams should be stored in a cool, dark, dry area. They can be safely kept for up to two weeks. Uncooked yams should never be refrigerated. Cooked yams can be refrigerated for 3 days.


Unlike the sweet potato, yams cannot be eaten raw. Uncooked yams are toxic.


(Makes 6 servings)

2lbs. yams (or 1 can yams)

1/4c butter or margarine

1/2 bag miniature marshmallows

1/2c orange juice

1/4c brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Peel fresh yams and precook in boiling water until they are soft and tender. (Usually 30 minutes.) Canned yams can be drained.

In a shallow baking dish, layer yams. Pour orange juice over vegetables. Sprinkle on brown sugar. Dot with butter or margarine. Top with marshmallows. Bake 30 minutes or until marshmallows have melted. Spoon sugar and juice from bottom of the dish over yams and serve hot.


(Serves 6)

6 yams

6 green apples

1/3c butter

1t cinnamon

1/2c brown sugar, packed


Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Peel apples and yams. Chop yams into large pieces and place on the bottom of a baking dish. Chop apples and mix with yams, so that they are evenly layered.

Mix sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over yams and apples.

Melt butter slowly on low heat, and gently pour over mixture. Drizzle honey over dish.

Bake 1 hour, or until apples and yams are tender.


(Serves 6)

6 fresh yams

6T butter

Aluminum foil

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.

Clean and scrub yams. Place each yam into a small sheet of aluminum foil. Poke yams with knife. Add 1T butter to each foil packet and seal.

Bake 1 hour, or until yams are tender.


(Serves 4)

4 fresh yams, peeled and sliced

1T olive oil


In a frying pan, heat olive oil on medium heat. Place a single layer of yams into oil and cook until soft. Turn yams over and repeat. Remove yams from heat, season with salt and pepper and a sprinkling of chives.


YAMS can be used in any sweet potato recipe.

UNLIKE most other types of vegetables, yams are just as good (and sometimes easier to prepare) when they're purchased canned or fresh.

CANNED yams can be heated in a microwave in under a minute. Top with butter and brown sugar.

CANNED yams can be blended to make a healthy puree for toddlers.

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