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What Are the Best Tips for Cooking Yams?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

Though sweet potatoes and yams are distinct species of tubers from vastly different regions and families of plants, they are both largely interchangeable in a variety of recipes. Yams are less sweet than their distant cousin, but they still make up the basis for several time-honored dishes. Many accompany savory meals with a starchy punch, while others feature the vegetable in super-sweet desserts. The best tip for cooking yams is to experiment until finding the way it tastes best.

Perhaps the most basic way of cooking yams is by roasting them in the oven, similar to baked potatoes. These can be slathered in butter and salt and then set beside a piece of grilled game, which might elevate the gamey nature of both foods. According to the World's Healthiest Foods Web site, studies indicate that boiling might steal some nutritional benefits that are left intact by roasting or even steaming these tubers. Much like other types of potatoes, eating them raw can cause illness and infection.

There are a variety of methods for cooking yams.
There are a variety of methods for cooking yams.

Aside from merely cooking yams correctly, pairing them with poise is often the hard part. The World's Healthiest Foods site recommends a mashed yam with milk, followed by a masala-like blend of cayenne pepper, tamari, cumin and coriander. A popular roasting recipe involves a medley of yam chunks, along with onions, mushroooms and herbs like fennel.

According to a recipe at the Food Network Web site, submitted by the chef at New York city's Soul Cafe, Rhea Smith, cooking yams for dessert requires several added sweeteners. While the oven is heating to 350°F (about 177°C), yam chunks are boiled or steamed until almost cooked. Then, Smith coats them lightly with flour, white sugar and brown sugar, before pouring over them a marinade of orange juice, cinnamon, corn syrup, nutmeg, citrus peel and vanilla extract. After about 25 minutes, and perhaps a quick puree, the candied yams are ready for dessert. Some take this further by pureeing the mixture before baking and then pouring it into a pie shell for yam, or sweet potato, pie.

Yams are any of about 200 species of the Dioscorea genus of tuber-bearing vines. These are primarily grown in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia, as cultures have been cooking yams for what appears to be about 500 centuries. Sweet potatoes, by contrast, are members of the morning glory family of flowering plants known as Ipomoea. Its species, Ipomoea batatas, proliferates in Asia and the Americas in 2011. In the west, cultures often have substituted sweet potatoes for yams in various recipes, leading to many even calling the sweet potato a yam.

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Discussion Comments


@Rotergirl -- You're probably right about most people not knowing the difference. My favorite way to cook yams or sweet potatoes, is in a sweet potato casserole. You roast the yams, then peel and mash them with evaporated milk, butter and apple pie spices. Bake with a pecan-struesel topping and it's the favorite Thanksgiving dish of nearly everyone I know.

If I can have sweet potato casserole and dressing at Thanksgiving, I'm a happy camper.


I guarantee, the average American couldn't tell the difference between a sweet potato and a yam. However, baking them like a regular potato is definitely one of the more popular ways to prepare them. Then, they're served with butter, and depending on the person, either salt and pepper, or with brown sugar and cinnamon. My husband prefers the latter preparation. I'm not crazy about them, so I don't usually eat them.

Candied yams are also popular, and these may be a side dish, but you could about eat them for dessert. This is when the yams are left in chunks, then cooked in a sweet syrup. They are a lot like candy when they're done. You can even buy canned candied yams.

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    • There are a variety of methods for cooking yams.
      By: Bill
      There are a variety of methods for cooking yams.