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Yam is a tubular starchy vegetable that grows underground. This vegetable that is native to Africa is now grown in Asia, Central and South America. This bulbous vegetable can grow to varied sizes from being as small as potatoes to almost 7 feet and generally the skin color of the root vegetable ranges from light cream to dark brown. The flesh of yams can also vary in color from off-white to yellow, pink and even purple, depending on the demographics and also the variety of this vegetable. Yam recipes are quite popular with all the African, Latin American countries and even in India. In fact, there is an annual festival celebrated in the African countries Ghana and Nigeria, as a sign of Thanksgiving to this special vegetable called yam.

History of Yams and Yam Recipes
Yams, as per records, were first cultivated in West Africa and then carried to Europe and America by the Spanish and Portuguese. Today, yams are an integral part of all the Latin American cuisines and also well known in the Asian cuisine. Yam and yam recipes held such a lot of significance in the ancient times that the months of the year were named after the yam growing cycle. In fact, people of ancient times worshipped Olhuala, a type of yam of Maldives. The purple variety of yams was brought to Hawaii by the Polynesian settlers in the early 19th century. People of a Japanese island called Rishiri also grew yams and made yam recipes or products as they believed that this vegetable could treat impotency. Today, some delicious dishes of various cuisines are made with yams.

Types of Yams
Yams are now available in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some popular types of yams are –

  • Water Yam – This is also known as purple yam, because of its color. It is native to Southeast Asia; however, now grown in Africa, Pacific Islands, West Indies and also Hawaii where the vegetable was brought in by the Polynesian settlers. This variety of yam is also available in Philippines, Vietnam and India (where it is called ‘ratalu’).
  • Chinese Yam – This is native to China, however, also grown in Korea and Japan. This yam is generally cooked with noodles and at times even eaten fresh.
  • Air Potato – This variety consists of yams which are lookalikes of potato, thus the name. They are native to Asia and Africa. Some of them can be eaten as it is and some need to be boiled and cooked, else they can cause irritation.
  • Lesser Yam – These are small sized yams native to Southeast Asia. This variety are generally boiled, baked and even fried like potatoes.
  • Cush Cush Yam – This highly flavored variety is native to Guyana and known as New World Yam.
  • Bitter Yam – Yams of this variety are available in West Africa. They are usually toxic, hence are mixed with the bait for animals.

Culinary Uses of Yam
Yams rank high on the production and consumption list of West Africa and Nigeria. In these regions yam recipes not only include cooking the vegetable, but also include certain dishes made with the powdered yam. In African countries this root vegetable is generally boiled and made into stew. Other than this, it is also mashed and cooked into a thick paste to be used in soups and stews. Small cut pieces of yam are also sun-dried and powdered, which can be stored, and cooked into a thick stew.

Yams are used for making a special soup called canh khoai mo (fatty yam soup) in Vietnam. In Indonesia mashed purple yam is used for making a dessert along with coconut and sugar and in Philippines yams are made into a sweet dish, while in the West special grated yam dishes are popular. Indians prefer preparing yam recipes that include boiling and frying the pieces of yam or even prepare spicy dishes with the boiled vegetable.

Popular Yam Recipes of Various Cuisines
Yams and yam recipes are popular in West African, Asian (India to be specific) and in American cuisines. Some popular yam recipes are –

  • African – African Squash and Yams is a popular yam recipe of this cuisine. This delicious yam dish is cooked along with hubbarb squash, coconut milk and certain spices. Other yam recipes of this cuisine are Twice Baked Yam, Pineapple Yam Bake, West African Yam Muffins, etc.
  • Indian – Yam and Potato Roast is a popular Indian yam recipe. Potatoes and yam pieces are roasted and seasoned with salt and chili powder and certain other spices. Other popular yam recipes are Yam Kofta, Chenai Masial, etc.
  • American – Maple Glazed Yams is a popular Thanksgiving yam recipe. This is made by baking maple syrup coated yam pieces. Yam with Prunes and Bacon is another popular yam recipe of this cuisine.

Nutritive Value of Yam Recipes
The yam is very high in vitamin C, B5 and most importantly dietary fiber. It is also a rich source of potassium and manganese; however, low in sodium which is a good balance. These nutrients help in controlling heart diseases and osteoporosis. Obesity and diabetes are also under control because of this wonder vegetable called yam.

Yam Recipes : Trivia

  • Yams are toxic when eaten raw.
  • The Yam is believed to help produce hormones for contraceptives and steroids; hence, they were produced commercially for this purpose.