June 15th, 2010
06:00 AM ET
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yam, sweet potato
Category: Ingredient
Definition: Though used interchangeably in the U.S. to refer to Western Hemisphere potato-sized roots that yield a rich, orange flesh rich in vitamins, that vegetable is properly called a sweet potato. A yam, on the other hand, is a large (up to 8-foot-long) African or Asian root vegetable with white to purple flesh

Filed under: Definition • Eatcyclopedia • Glossary • Ingredient

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soundoff (31 Responses)
  1. Mike B.

    yes, I love sweet potatos with brown sugar, butter and cinnamon.

    June 30, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  2. Frank McGillicutti

    Wow "Mike B", the flag is racist and only in the south can someone loose a war but still fly the loosing sides flag. This is 2010, can we just stick to the "YAMS"!!!

    June 30, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  3. Mike B.

    Patrick, you really are an idiot. Get up on the wrong side of the bed or something? Relax. Call us Confederates if you like I doubt any Southener would be offended. You are proably one of those 'Northeners' who think the Confederate Battle flag is racist.
    Back to the food. Everyone knows the food down south is much better than overpriced, decorative spoon sized portions of food you get in your area.

    June 30, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  4. Frank McGillicutti

    I wish everyone would just stick with the Sweet Potatoe/Yam conversation.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  5. d

    I'm with Patrick on the "yam" thing. I thought that "yam" referred to the mushy stuff they put in cans.

    The African/Asian yam sounds more like a turnip.

    June 30, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  6. Mtka

    They are from two different plant families. The sweet potato is in the same plant family as the morning glory.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
  7. mary

    patrick, you are hysterical – funniest comment I've read for a long time

    June 30, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  8. Chris

    Patrick, Well Put!!! I am from PA and have lived in the South for 10.5 years. I agree with you 100%.

    June 30, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  9. Patrick

    Hey Hosley. We're not Yankees, we're northerners. Do you still live on a plantation? Do you own slaves? We don't refer to you as confederates. Why do you rednecks continue to insist on calling us Yankees? Also, we call a sweet potato a sweet potato. The only "yams" reference is on the canned stuff. I haven't heard anyone call it a yam since I was a little boy. Now, let's talk about cuisine, because up here in the north, we've got world class restaurants and chefs by the dozen. I've been down south, and it's pretty accurate to say that fine dining establishments are few and far between in comparison to the north. I'm insulted by your insinuation that somehow southerners are more well versed when it comes to cuisine. In fact, i find it laughable that you would make that assumption, but I guess ignorance is what it is. Come up north sometime. I'm sure I can whip you up a SWEET POTATO pie that would rival the queen of southern cuisine Paula Deen.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • Kim

      @ Patrick; While I agree that the term yankees needs to be retired, obviously you haven't traveled many places in the south if you haven't had world class food here. Overpriced and fancy doesn't necessarily mean world class. Come on down sometime and I'll take you out to eat.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Mona Lisa

      Speaking of ignorance, you should capitalize Northerners and Southerners because you are speaking of someone from a particular region of the United States.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
      • Patrick

        Aw come on Lisa....This isn't an English lesson forum, it's about food. Ignorance does not imply lack of education, it implies lack of overall knowledge, culture, experience, and worldy exposure. You can have a PhD and still be ignorant. Yes, even if your PhD is in English, you ignoramus. I have eaten at plenty of places down south. I happen to own a vacation home on Hilton Head Island, and we do frequent Savannah, GA a lot when we're down there. I've also been to every country in South America, most of Europe, China, Japan, and a handful of African nations. So you see, I do know excellent food when it's sitting in front of me. I didn't say there was no good cuisine down south, I said there was a limited amount of it, therefore, you wouldn't know good cuisine if it bit you on your pig snout. Your lack of worldly exposure is what makes you an ignoramus, not the fact that you're a moron just looking to be inflamatory. I also know down home cooking. I'm not going to pay good money for down home cooking. If I want down home cooking, I'll cook at home. See how that works? I'm not going to a restaurant to spend good money and eat something only to say "mmmm this tastes just like my mom's cooking". If I want that, I'll go visit my mom. OVERPRICED?!?!?! You pay a premium to eat a masterpiece concoted by a decorated chef. If you're too IGNORANT to understand that, then you can continue to eat at Cracker Barrell because it's cost effective, and call it down home cuisine all day long. You'd rather pay for something you can make at home, while I'd prefer to pay for a 5-star meal made by a Michelin decorated chef. Listen, it's common knowledge that the south is not where you go for fine dining. I didn't pull that knowledge out of a hat. I'm speaking from experience. When I'm down south, I have to do some real digging to find a top notch restaurant. There's a reason why the fattest people in the country live in the south. Greasy fried fatty southern food is not my definition of "down home cookin". It's my definition of cheap unhealthy fare that you can sell to people who are less demanding than cultured people, who tend to demand the best of everything. Call me a snob, but when anyone I know is looking for a recommendation on a good restaurant, be it in Savannah, NYC, or Singapore they call ME.

        June 30, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
      • OMG


        June 30, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • GuyNemeth


      While I am a northerner, I think I agree with Kim on this one. In my experience, the cuisine of the south has always been more about "down home cooking". It goes hand in hand with southern hospitality. Personally, I find many of the gourmet and high class restaurants in any state to be not my taste. They are over priced, I don't like the food, and the portions are too small. I'd much prefer a nice pub cheeseburger to some french dish I can't pronounce, but that's just my taste. I think the majority of the people in the south have this same mentality, that it doesn't have to be expensive or have a fancy name to taste good. Many northerners might look at this and argue that it makes them unrefined, but personally I don't think the southerners care that much.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • justin

      Fun fact about the term yankee. in the world yankees means americans. in america yankees means northerners. in the north yankees means new englanders. in new england yankees means vermonters. in vermont im not sure.....

      June 30, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
      • Cordelia

        Actually, in New England, a Yankee is generally considered a native, particularly with a frugal, somewhat suspicious nature. It's also the dreaded nemesis of the Red Sox, so be careful how you use the term!

        June 30, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • dnsmith

      I guess you have never eaten in New Orleans or anywhere in Creole or Cajun country to suggest that southerners don't have fine cuisine. I'd put our common Cajun seafood against the finest Boulliabaise from the north; black eyed peas and corn bread against any other pea or bread; breaded pork chop against schwein schnitzel panniert (pork schnitzel); red beans and rice cooked with salt pork or bacon with virtually any thing you can get up north. Butter broiled chicken cooked with shredded cabbage, peanuts, onions and celery with cashew chicken from your best Chinese restaurant.

      June 30, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
    • Mike B.

      Typical Yankee. Over reacting and not knowing a damn thing about what you are talking about.

      June 30, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  10. Reader

    Uhh, not that I like either, but polenta is not grits. If polenta in any way resembles grits, there's something really wrong with it.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • Kim

      No, they aren't the same. Grits are way yummier if you know how to cook them. But I do like sliced grilled polenta topped with sauteed onions and mushrooms. Mmmmm. I'm hungry now.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Mike

      Polenta and Grits are both corn based products. Polenta is made from cooking common yellow corn meal into a mush. It can be served that way (like a porridge) or cooled, and then sliced in order to be grilled or shaped for other poreparations. Grits are different. The corn is first soaked in lye to produce hominy. The Hominy is then dried, and ground ino a coarse meal, which is grits. The prcess of soaking the corn in the lye changes the flavor and texture. It is this meal that is cooked into a porridge. However, grits can also be cooled and sliced, though southerners will fry the resulting starchy slabs, instead of grilling them.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • dnsmith

      Tell me again the difference between most polenta and most grits?

      From Wikipedia

      Grits is a food of Native American origin that is common in the Southern United States; it mainly consists of coarsely ground corn.

      Polenta is made with ground yellow or white cornmeal

      Cornmeal is flour ground from dried corn

      June 30, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
      • Patrick

        different textures and flavor. Polenta doesn't come powdered in a box waiting for you to add boiling water to it.

        June 30, 2010 at 1:17 pm |
  11. Laura

    I can hit an Asian market around my house and find the true 'yam'. They do not taste different to me nor is the texture that much different. I have used the white and purple yams in Asian dishes. That is about it.

    June 30, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  12. Patrick

    I think yams are more comparable to yucca root...

    June 30, 2010 at 11:01 am |
  13. JHosley

    I wish I could send this to all of my Yankee friends who are determined to call the plain old sweet potato a "yam." I've noticed this too with grits; quite a few of our friends profess to love polenta, but refuse to eat much the same thing when we call them grits.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:59 am |
    • popeye the yankee sailorman

      I yam what I yam.

      June 30, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  14. John Lamb

    I've had both yams (in Africa) and sweet potatoes (everywhere else)- I prefer sweet potatoes. Sweet potato chips / fries are the best!

    June 30, 2010 at 10:51 am |
  15. Rick McDaniel

    People would be well advised to stick to sweet potatoes, as they are quite healthy, much more so, than white potatoes, and "yams" is a southern word for the sweet potato, made sugary.......also not as good for you, as the regular version of sweet potato.

    June 30, 2010 at 10:23 am |
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