Is It a Sweet Potato or a Yam?

Amy G. Juneau  |  12/16/2009 1:42:30 AM

What a great topic to discuss as we all sit down to our holiday meals with friends and family. Sweet potato pie, sweet potato casserole, candied yams…the list could go on and on. Sweet potatoes and yams seem to be a staple item for our holiday meals in Louisiana. The LSU AgCenter boasts that sweet potatoes are one of nature’s most nutritious root crops and are among the most versatile of all foods. They can be prepared a number of different ways, yet most of us love a simple, baked sweet potato with a little bit of butter to accompany a big bowl of steaming hot gumbo!

A big plus for sweet potatoes is that, unlike white potatoes, they can be cooked and frozen. So bake a whole pan at once, wrap up what you don’t serve and store them in the freezer for a nutritious snack or impromptu side dish.

So is it a yam or a sweet potato? Unless you specifically search for a true yam, you are most likely eating a sweet potato. Yams are native to Africa and Asia. Compared to sweet potatoes, they are starchier and drier in texture. You might find a yam in an international foods market. When sweet potatoes where introduced in the United States many years ago, producers called them “yams” in order to distinguish them from the white potato variety. In the United States, the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are used interchangeably. The United States Department of Agriculture requires that a product labeled as a yam should have the words sweet potato on the label also. So where does that leave the discussion? Well, simply put – in Louisiana we produce and consume sweet potatoes, also known as yams.

One medium-size yam, about a 6 ounce serving contains roughly 150 calories, three to four time the recommended daily allowance of carotene for vitamin A, and about half the recommended daily amount of vitamin C (if cooked with skin on). They have only a trace of fat and no cholesterol. Sweet potatoes are also a good source of fiber.

The recipe provided will prove to be a hit and can be altered as needed to reduce fat and calories. Reduce the amount of butter by 1/3 and you probably won’t notice the difference. You may also use egg substitute (1/4 cup = 1 large egg) in place of the whole eggs, and the amount of brown sugar can either be reduced significantly or replaced with one of the new brown sugar “blend” products found in most supermarkets.

Please contact your local extension office for more information on this or other nutrition topics (337) 828-4100 ext. 300.

The recipe below was made available by Quincy L. Cheek, Extension Agent (Nutrition) from Rapides Parish.


Slow-Cooker Sweet Potato Casserole

4-6 cups fresh, cooked Louisiana Sweet Potatoes
5 Tablespoons butter
½ cup low-fat milk
¼ cup grated coconut
1 Tablespoon grated orange peel
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
5 eggs, beaten
½ cup, chopped Louisiana Pecans
½ cup brown sugar

Beat sweet potatoes, milk and butter with electric mixer in a large bowl. Fold in coconut, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and eggs. Grease sides and bottom of slow-cooker and pour in mixture. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours, then turn on low for another 2 hours. Mix together brown sugar and pecans and sprinkle over cooked casserole. Cover and allow heat to steam sugar/pecan topping.

Serves 6-8



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