I Yam, What I Yam

February 8, 2010 in Blog Recipes, Cooking & Baking Hints, Diabetic Menu Item, Health Claims, Mediterranean, Nutrition by Joyce Bunderson

I always thought Popeye was a spinach guy, but when I think back, isn’t he famous for saying, “I Yam, what I Yam?”  All right, that’s too stupid, but sometimes I like stupid humor. It’s late on a Friday afternoon and I’ve about used up my smart cells, which can only cry out “Yams are super important to write about.  Get them introduced and get on with it. Then give us some rest!” After reviewing on Monday, the now rested cells noticed that the dark green spinach and the dark orange yams fit right in with the conclusion of this article.

What I really want to tell you about is yams (really sweet potatoes). The orange-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes that Americans call ‘yams’ are really sweet potatoes in the Morning Glory family and include the garnet yam and the jewel yam. I’m so glad to know that the rest of America has it backwards along with me – I’m not alone in this confusion. To everyone else in the world, the vegetable that Americans call yam is a tropical yam. The 200 varieties of yams are one of the oldest food plants known; they have been cultivated since 50,000 BC in Africa and Asia. (Note for my grandchildren: This is before I was born.) Yams are one of the most popular and widely consumed foods in the world; and are a staple in the diets of South American, Africa, the Pacific Islands, and the West Indies.

Many people in the U.S. eat yams on Thanksgiving or Christmas; they’re that substance with a couple cubes of butter, a cup or two of brown sugar, salt, and topped off with marshmallows.  We’re talking sugar and fat. I know that some of you like it that way, but my suggestion is that you become a little adventuresome. You can’t even taste the tuber.

Yams’ and their complex carbohydrates are perfect for diabetic menu items and for anyone else that doesn’t like their blood sugar spiking and dropping like a carnival ride.  They’re also loaded with dietary fiber, which supports the stable blood sugar levels that we all desire. I don’t want to belabor the blood sugar control mechanisms in yams, but they are also a good source of manganese, a trace mineral that helps with carbohydrate metabolism, among many other functions. Nice little side benefit is that all their fiber probably is what helps you to stay full for a relatively long period of time – Voilà! – an aid to weight loss or weight control.

When we were in New Zealand, some ethnic cooks and servers from Thailand had a booth in a food court. We ordered a stir-fry, which included slices of raw yams. It was delightful; and since then I have periodically included yam slices in stir-fry.

I grew up eating roasted yams; my grandmother would roast great big dark flesh yams in the oven until they were soft and almost caramelized. Delightful!

I had a conversation with a couple of friends today about the recipe that I developed last night, (Yams on a Hawaiian Date). I was describing how easy it was and why they may want to consider making it. One of them said that she did not like yams, but that she makes them during the holidays for her husband. The funny thing is that she hasn’t really tasted yams without the butter, sugar and marshmallows.  I asked if she found candied yams way too sweet and she said yes, but that it can’t be too sweet for her husband. So the point is that she doesn’t even know if she like yams or not. Maybe yes and maybe no. I suggested that she try my ‘yam preparation on a super rushed night.’ I explained that all that you have to do is to microwave a large yam until it yields to pressure with a pot holder; then slice it into sections ranging from one, to one and one half inches thick. Then cut a lime in half and squeeze limejuice onto your sliced yam. That’s as easy as a microwave potato, but doesn’t need salt or butter. Yeh! We also often eat the well-washed cooked skins along with the yam flesh. Many of the best vitamins and nutrients love to lurk right under or in the skin, just like with regular potatoes.

I really don’t want to start publishing the nutrition facts of vegetables, because I think that it is easier to just remember the nutritional power of dark colors.  It’s easier to remember that a dark orange vegetable like red garnet yam (sweet potato) is just plain good for you than to memorize an impressive list of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients with multi-syllable scientific names. But the hope of recipes with nutritionally fabulous dark colored vegetables is that maybe if you see another example of one, you will find it easier to try to fit more of them into your menus. (Please do not attempt to memorize the following – it is only to impress you to try them).

A mere ½ cup of cooked yam (dark orange kind) – 100 grams

90 calories – this is a bargain food! Dense with nutrients, tasty, and low in calories.

Zero fat and cholesterol

Only 36mg sodium (before you add butter or salt or seasoning with salt)

3 grams of fiber

2 g protein

384% DV (Daily Value) vitamin A (carotenoids) Almost 4 days’ worth without eating

anything else.

4% DV calcium

4% DV iron

33% DV vitamin C

And a whole bunch of B vitamins

7% DV (27.0 mg) Magnesium

25% DV (.05 mg) Manganese

14% (475 mg) Potassium

Incorporate yams into your diet using my Yams on a Hawaiian Date recipe. It is really YUMMY!