Sweet potatoes are not true yams, which are usually very large (some incredibly so!) and mostly grown in Asia and Africa. Because yams are not usually available in this country, but are used in the same ways as sweet potatoes, the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are sometimes used interchangeably. And, the darker variety of sweet potato is often marketed as yam. Sweet potatoes are quite perishable and should be used as soon as possible after purchase. Don’t refrigerate them, but store them in a dry, well-ventilated bin for up to one week. A cool basement is a perfect place for storage. Avoid buying sweet potatoes with pitting, holes, wrinkles or soft spots; they should feel hard, dense and “weighty” with very smooth, thin skins.
The majority of our sweet potatoes are grown in Louisiana, California and New Jersey. The two most common varieties are those with vibrant orange flesh, which are very sweet and moist (often called yams), or those with a pale yellow pulp and a much drier texture. The moist variety takes longer to cook and, although both varieties are interchangeable, they should not be used together in the same recipe. Since sweet potatoes taste so rich, they have a reputation for being a food to avoid while watching one’s waistline. In reality, a medium-sized sweet potato has only about 120 calories, no more than a white potato. And although most traditional recipes use lots of butter and the like, sweet potatoes really need no embellishments to be fully enjoyed.