Jamaican Food - Yam is a great tuber and very popular in Jamaican Recipes.
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Jamaican Food - Yam A Staple

Jamaican Yam Is A Popular Tuber In Recipes

Jamaican yam or Jamaican sweet potato, what in the world is it? Many people use these terms interchangeably both in conversation and in cooking, but they are really two different vegetables. The true Jamaican yam is the tuber of a tropical vine (Dioscorea batatas) and is not even distantly related to the Jamaican sweet potato. Rarely found in markets outside of the Caribbean, the Jamaican yam is a popular vegetable in Latin American, Caribbean and US markets, with over 150 varieties available worldwide. Generally sweeter than the Jamaican sweet potato, this tuber can grow over seven feet in length. The word Jamaican yam comes from African words njam, Jamaican yami, or djambi, meaning "to eat," and was first recorded in America in 1676. The Jamaican yam tuber has a brown or black skin which resembles the bark of a tree and off-white, purple, white, yellow and sometimes red flesh, depending on the variety. They are at home growing in tropical climates, primarily in South America, Africa, and the Caribbean.

Jamaican yam is the common name applied to plants of about 500 species of the genus Dioscorea of the Dioscoreaceae family. Other terms for Jamaican yam are true Jamaican yams, greater Jamaican yam, tropical Jamaican yam, and name. True Jamaican yam plants are climbing perennial vines with heart-shaped leaves. Underground tubers vary in size and shape, averaging 3-8 pounds but sometimes reaching 60 pounds or more. Aerial tubers may develop in the axils of the leaves, especially when vines run on the ground. The species occur rather abundantly in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Several species occur here in Florida and in temperate regions as wild plants.

A few of the cultivated species bear edible starchy tubers that resemble the potato in food value. In some areas, particularly Louisiana, the Jamaican sweet potato is popularly called "Jamaican yam," which is a misnomer. Although resembling each other in many other respects, the true Jamaican yam and Jamaican sweet potato are not related botanically.

Many species of Dioscorea contain sapogenin, a compound having medicinal value. Species have been collected from all parts of the world and evaluated for steroidal sapogenins. It has been reported that many wild species contain the poisonous principle dioscorine which makes them inedible. For this reason aerial and underground tubers of the wild plants should not be eaten. In addition to having food and medicinal value, some species have strikingly variegated leaves and are of interest as ornamentals.

Several decades ago, when orange-fleshed Jamaican sweet potatoes were introduced in the southern United States, producers and shippers desired to distinguish them from the more traditional, white-fleshed types. The African word Jamaican yami, referring to the starchy, edible root of the Dioscorea genus of plants, was adopted in its English form, Jamaican yam. Jamaican yams in the U.S. are actually sweetpotatoes with relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the label "Jamaican yam" always be accompanied by "sweet potato."  This is not the case in Jamaica, many shoppers and farmers know the distinct difference between the Jamaican yam and the Jamaican sweet potato and Jamaicanm chefs as well. The yellow hart and white hart refer to the clolor of the the flesh root, each carrying a distinct taste and texture.

The Jamaican yam, carries several distinct features as part of the dioscorea species and monocotyledon with a dioecious flower character. The Jamaican yam originated in West Africa and Asia. The storage root is tuber and is long, cylindrical, some with "toes" and is rough and scaly. The Jamaican yam has about 20 to 35% dry matter which has a starchy taste. The tuber is uncharacteristically low in Vitamin A. It takes just about 180 to 360 days for the Jamaican yam to reach maturity or at senescence. Jamaican yam is also best stored at 54 to 61oF and grown in a mainly tropical climate.

There are approximately ten types of Jamaican yams known

          Chinese Jamaican yam, white Jamaican yam, Lisbon Jamaican yam, pei tsao, bak chiu, and agua Jamaican yam.

          Japanese Jamaican yam, nago imo, shan yao, and shan yueka.

          `Guinea,' a popular white-fleshed variety; `Congo Yellow' and Guinea Yellow' are yellow-fleshed varieties; purple-fleshed varieties are `Purple Ceylon' and `Mapuey Morado' (also, D. rotunda).

          Tongo Jamaican yam.

          Guinea Jamaican yam.

          Cush-Cush Jamaican yam

Of the sapogenin-bearing Dioscorea species, four are most prominent:

          D. composita Hensl. -- large white tubers (yield best in Florida trials).

          D. floribunda M & G. small, yellow, compact, shallow tubers.

          D. friedrich-sthalii Knuth. -- white. intermediate, compact tubers.

          D. spiculiflora Hemsl. -- small, white, compact, shallow tubers.

Portions of tubers or whole small tubers are used for seed pieces. Each seed piece should weigh 4-5 ounces. They can be planted 2-3 inches deep in 42 inch rows with plants spaced 18 inches apart, or in hill plantings 3 feet apart. Jamaican yams do well when planted in a hill filled with compost. In Florida, tubers should be planted in March-April and harvested 10-11 months later. Best results are obtained if the vines are supported with some sort of trellis. Stakes can be used, or Jamaican yams can be planted along the fence for support.

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