About Yams


Yams have been a staple food for many cultures for thousands of years. There are today almost countless varieties, of different shapes, sizes and colors and called different names by different people. Most varieties are thought to have been native to China, although they found their way to Africa at a very early period and became a basic food, being easy to grow in tropical and subtropical conditions, and containing the essential carbohydrate of all staple foods.

Although cush-cush or Indian yam was indigenous to America, most yams were introduced to the New World as a result of the slave trade in the sixteenth century. Today with such a huge variety of this popular vegetable available, there are innumerable recipes for yam, many probably not printed and published, but handed down by word of mouth from mother to daughter and making their appearance at mealtimes all over the hot regions of the world.

Variety : The greater yam, as the name suggests, can grow to a huge size. A weight of 62kg/150lb has been recorded. The varieties you are likely to find in shops will be about the size of a small marrow, although smaller yams are also available such as the sweet yam, which looks like a large potato and is normally covered with whiskery roots. All sizes have a coarse brown skin and can be white or red-fleshed. In Chinese stores, you may find the Chinese yam, which is more elongated, club-like shape and is covered with fine whiskers.

Buying : Look out for firm specimens with unbroken skins. The flesh inside should be creamy and moist and if you buy from a grocery, the shopkeeper may well cut open a yam so you can check that it is fresh. They can be stored for several weeks in a cool, dark place.

Preparing : Peel away the skin thickly to remove the outer skin and the layer underneath that contains the poison dioscorine. This in fact is destroyed during cooking, but discard the peel carefully. Place the peeled yam in salted water as it discolors easily.

Cooking : Yams, like potatoes, are used as the main starchy element in a meal, boiled and mashed, fried, sauteed or roasted. They tend to have an affinity with spicy sauces and are deliciously cut into discs, fried and sprinkled with a little salt and cayenne pepper. African cooks frequently pound boiled yam to make a dough which is them served with spicy stews and soups.

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