Yams? No. Sweet Potatoes!

If you find this blog title offensive that is because it was meant to be. Just as Dave Chappelle used an audio byte of Donnell Rawlins screaming “I’m rich, bitch” I want to make a proclamation about a different subject — one that has perplexed me for some years now.

If you are like me then you were raised in a household where the terms yams and sweet potatoes were used interchangeably and you weren’t certain about how to differentiate the two. Maybe you were like me and assumed a yam was a dish made of cooked sweet potatoes. But that doesn’t make much sense after all cooked macaroni and cheese is still macaroni and cheese before it is cooked. Why doesn’t the same naming criteria apply for yams and sweet potatoes? Ah, there lies the rub.

In my experience there is a sweet dish that sometimes includes marshmallows, brown sugar, and cinnamon and is often served with Soul Food meals especially on Thanksgiving. Delicious though it may be we do not call this dish “sweet potatoes”, but rather “yams.”

This will learn somebody what a yam truly be. Ya dig? Cuz they ain’t sweet potatoes, damn it!

Cuz during my trip to Japan, I was treated to a serving of yams and I want to say it loud and say it proud, either that or go tell it on a mountain that yams aren’t sweet potato! So why the confusion? I have discovered that the Man has manipulated us folk of darker hue in a subtle way. His attack on us is economic, political, social, and edible.

First off, what we tend to find at supermarkets are fat brown or red diamond-ish shaped root vegetables. The flesh on the insides is orange.


Though there are many varieties of the sweet potato the variety I discovered in Asia is rarely found in supermarkets in the hood. Those other varieties are purple skinned and yellow fleshed.


I first encountered the other varieties at supermarkets in Asia, mainly Korea and Japan. I would like to point out that for South Koreans, Okinawans, and those Japanese outside Okinawa, the sweet potato variety that is most often consumed is purple skinned and yellow fleshed. They are delicious! You don’t need to do much by way of preparing them for a meal either. Simply heat and enjoy with a glass of milk. They are sweet and healthy just as they are. Asians have long been serving these sweet potatoes to babies or as snacks. They are rich in vitamins.

Next, I want to point out that the variety I am used to finding at the supermarkets in the hood are different from the Asian variety — the garnet or jewell variety. Unlike the Nancy Hall and Liberty varieties pictured above they are not as pleasant to eat as-is in my opinion. Enter sugar, marsh mellows, cinnamon, and a host of other ingredients that African Americans have used to make these things more palatable. Our reliance upon those other ingredients may be a reason they are sold in the hood and also account for the high rates of diabetes. Conspiracy much? Just another plot by the Man to keep the Black man down if you ask me. I say that with my tongue firmly planted in cheek. The result of preparing these sweet potatoes is a dish we call ‘yams.’ What a shame it is too that so much effort has to be put into a food only to have its nutritious value diminished in the process.
Finally, I would like to now speak to difference between the dish we call yams and the true yam. As I discovered  after conducting a Google search on the difference between yams and sweet potatoes I found that there has already been lots written about this topic.

This root vegetable is primarily found in Africa though it was introduced from Asia.



The true yam is bitter if eaten raw, difficult to prepare as it is hard and dry, and as I discovered in Japan, it’s pretty tasteless after cooked. It can be used to make dishes that are more palatable and have high nutritious value.


Let’s recap. Go into any supermarket in the hood and you will find sweet potatoes mostly of the Garner variety. Travel outside the hood and venture into an Asian supermarket, you will likely find the other varieties. Lastly, you won’t find a “yam” in any supermarket in America probably because they are too difficult to use in the preparation of a dish and thus would be too difficult to sell. What’s the rationale? Americans have a predilection for fast food.

If I have done a good job you will come away after reading this article knowing one thing. That is, there is a difference between a sweet potato and yams. If you paid close attention and even do some investigation on your own, you may even discover that you will never see a yam if you shop exclusively at your local Ralph’s or Albertson’s, for instance. Whole Foods, Bristol Farms and the like probably don’t carry them either for the reasons I mentioned above. For those who are still not convinced and will after reading this article continue to call sweet potatoes yams, I have one thing to say to your stubborn ignorant ass. They are sweet potatoes, bitch!

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  1. Yo mamma son. says:


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