Season for Yams October - December
Oh, the confusion! Yams are not sweet potatoes - at all. In fact, they are not even related, botanically speaking. Some enterprising farmers wanted to distinguish their sweet, orange-fleshed potatoes from the white-fleshed tubers we all know so well, so they essentially stole the name "yam" from the African term "nyami," a sort of like-minded spud, and stuck it on their sweet potatoes. True yams however have an earthy, hardy taste and usually a minimal amount of sweetness, and can be used much in the same way as a regular potato. Also worth noting, what's called a Mexican yam is what we know as jicama, and a whole other story.
How to Buy and Store Yams
True yams are not as ubiquitous as their mistaken cousin the sweet potato and may not even be available at your local grocery store. We suggest you ask a knowledgeable employee if they carry the real deal. They should however be sold at most Asian and African food markets. Look for those that are firm without any cracks, bruises or soft spots. Try to avoid those sold from the refrigerated section, because cold temperatures can alter their taste - and not in a good way.
Yams can be kept in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place where they will keep fresh for up to ten days - unwrapped.
How to Cook Yams
Small yams can be cooked in their skins, but larger ones should be peeled, washed and boiled or roasted - with some evidence showing that roasting carries more health benefits. Yams can be used much in the same way as potatoes. They can be mashed with your choice of scrumptious seasonings as an accompaniment to hearty stews. Make yam chips or bake yams in their skins. Include yams in your next roasted vegetable dish, pairing well with fennel, onions, garlic and carrots. In Africa, yam is pounded into a very stiff paste called fufu, eaten by hand in pinches from the serving tray, rolled into balls and dipped into a stew. Something to think about...
Health Benefits of Yams
Yams are a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, vitamin C, manganese and vitamin B6 - carrying with them a host of health benefits. Yams have been found to have beneficial effects on blood sugar levels, blood pressure and heart health. While it has been popularized that yams can help treat depression associated with PMS as well as some menopausal issues, there isn't really sufficient evidence to prove that. So, you'll have to test it out yourself. And please, let us know about your findings!
Why Buy Natural and Organic Yams
Given yams are relatively hard to find (remember: most things labeled "yam" are actually sweet potatoes), it will likely be even more challenging to find those that have been grown organically, and labeled as such. If you do come across organic yams though, please go that route! Especially considering that imported fruits and vegetables tend to have higher levels of pesticide residues, and yams are largely imported.