I yam not what I yam not

6 Recipes
Sweet potato gratin
(Eric Boyd / Los Angeles Times)

Not a yam, not a sweet potato; rather, a “sweetpotato.”


To put the kibosh on the sweet potato or yam question once and for all, the answer, depending on who you ask, is sweet potato or “sweetpotato” (just so you know, according to UC Davis, “The National Sweetpotato Collaborators Group and the National Sweetpotato Association endorsed spelling sweetpotato as one word in 1989. Nonetheless, in the current lexicon of American English, it is still spelled with two words. Both spellings are correct.”)

The potato is a starchy tuber of the nightshade family and sweetness is not one of its characteristics, thus the term sweet potato is actually a misnomer on two counts. This has caused much confusion and contributed to the endorsement of the one-word, sweetpotato spelling. The yam is a starchy, dry root vegetable with a tough, dark brown, bumpy skin and is virtually impossible to find in America. Early in the last century, sweet potato growers wanting to distinguish the pale yellow from the orange sweet potato called the orange one by its African name of nyami. Somehow, the name “yam” stuck for orange sweet potatoes. Whether you use one word or two, whether pale yellow or bright orange, they are all sweet potatoes.

The sweet potato is a member of the morning glory family and sweetness is a primary characteristic, hence its name. Of the dozens of types of sweet potatoes, the most popular grown here in California are Jewell (orange skin and orange flesh; super sweet, very moist), Garnet (red skin, orange flesh; very sweet, moist), Jersey (yellow-gold skin, yellow or white flesh; mildly sweet, more firm and dry) and Oriental (purple skin, pale yellow or white flesh; mildly sweet, more firm and dry).

Whichever type you opt for, as these recipes demonstrate, the sweet potato is versatile and works well as any course of a meal — with or without added sugar and marshmallows. Even simply baked, sliced and seasoned, they are a welcome addition to the table.

Sweet Potato Bread

Time1 hour 30 minutes, largely unattended
YieldsMakes 1 9-by-5-inch loaf

Sweet potato and chickpea dip

Time1 hour 25 minutes
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Thelma Moore's sweet potato souffle

Time45 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 10

Sweet potato gratin

Time1 hour 20 minutes
YieldsServes 10 to 12

Sweet potato puree with hazelnut souffle top

Time1 hour 40 minutes
YieldsServes 6