You say sweet potato, I say sweet potata

I was just sitting here, procrastinating, and eating some left over roast veggies, when I began to contemplate the meaning of life.  I also began contemplating the various roast tuber bits I was eating, and why people in different countries called things by different names, and what it all meant.

So, after some serious investigating, and lots of confusion, I have figured out what is what in the world of tubers.  I will present my results in a handy table.

Picture & Tasting Notes
N. American name New Zealand name
This is an orange fleshed sweet potato, the kind most commonly eaten in North American when one says “sweet potato”.  It’s flesh can be firm or soft, depending on the variety, and sweet.  According to Wikipedia, at some point growers decided to start marketing soft-fleshed orange sweet potatoes as “yams” to differentiate them from the firmer-fleshed kinds.  However, sometime recently it was decided that any product marketed as “yams” in North America must also have the words “sweet potato” on them somewhere.  In New Zealand, the firm orange fleshed, soft orange fleshed, or white fleshed sweet potato will simply be called a kumara.The dish commonly served on holidays known as “candied yams” is basically sweet potato mash with maple syrup or marshmallows on top!  YUM! Sweet Potato or Yam Kumara
I have never actually seen this variety of sweet potato in N. America, but this is the most common variety found here in New Zealand.  According to the Sweet Potato growers of North Carolina it is called a “murasakio” sweet potato, or kumara in New Zealand.  It’s flesh is firmer than that of an orange sweet potato, and though sweet, has a different texture.  It’s almost a bit creamier.  I think I may actually prefer this to orange sweet potatoes!  Also… makes excellent sweet potato fries. “Murasakio” sweet potato Kumara
My flatmate came home one day and said “I brought you something that all Americans love – yams!”  I looked in the bag and said “ I have no idea what these are.”  Apparently what kiwis call “yams” are actually a South American tuber called “oca”.  Ocas (or Kiwi yams) are small, more like a root vegetable than a tuber. The consistency is more like that of a carrot, but the flavour is more like a potato but a bit sweetish.  Quite nice!  Another added bonus – no peeling or chopping necessary!  Just roast them and eat them whole! Oca Yam
So, what I would actually just call a “yam”, should probably be called an “African yam”, just to avoid any confusion.  Yams are very different from sweet potatoes or what people call yams in New Zealand.  First of all – they are huge.  They can grow up to 1.5 meters long, and weigh up to 70 kgs or something.  They have white flesh.  They are not very sweet and have a very slight bitter flavour.  I have eaten deep fried yam chips, and boiled yam chunks in soup, but by far the best way to prepare yams is the traditional West African “fufu” – or pounded yams, with a groundnut soup.  It’s delicious, trust me.  I haven’t seen African yams in any shops in NZ, though I have seen them in speciality African or Caribbean shops in North America. African Yam African Yam
Taro is a purple-fleshed tuber common in Polynesia and used in some Asian dessert dishes.  I think it has kind of a knobby, waxy texture outside.  If I saw it in a shop I might think it was an African yam.  Or a Jicama.  I have never actually cooked or prepared taro, but I have had Taro ice cream which is quite lovely. Taro Taro

I hope this helps to clear up any confusion about the delicious world of tubers.  Perhaps in the future I can include things like Jicama and other mysterious root-like things sold at the Mexican grocery stores in Pilsen.

Discovering and exploring the wide-world of produce can often be an overwhelming and bewildering process, as many things have alternate or local names that make things complicated.  I’ve only recently really began to truly understand the differences between a turnip and a parsnip, and greens are a whole different story!  Kale, chard, silverbeet, morning glory, collard, sorrel… the list goes on, and some of them are the same thing!

Squash, pumpkin, rocket, argula, oh my!


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