Jamaican Ingredients: Yellow Yams

Although in many parts of the U.S. they call sweet potatoes yams, in Jamaica yams are yams. I know this may sound confusing to some of you who have never had real yams before, but when you do, you find them to be similar to potatoes, though much denser. Yams are tubers that were brought to Jamaica from West Africa during the slave trade. They are starchier and drier than potatoes and a staple of the Jamaican diet.
 
There are up to 18 different varieties of yams grown in Jamaica, but I think the yellow yam is most popular. After Usain Bolt won Olympic gold, his father attributed his athletic prowess to his son’s love of Trelawny Yams! Trelawny is the parish in Jamaica that the Bolts are from and a region on the island where most of Jamaica’s yams are grown. They even have an annual Trelawny Yam Festival. However, about half of the yams grown in the area are exported to the U.S., Canada and the UK, where there are large West Indian communities.
 
Yam is a versatile vegetable. It can be roasted fried, boiled and baked. You have to be very careful when peeling a yam. If the peeled yam touches your skin it itches … a lot.  I mostly use yams boiled like potatoes as a starch with meals, and they’re always an ingredient in traditional Jamaican soups.

I’m lucky enough to find them at most of the supermarkets in my area. The photo on the right shows what they look like before they’re peeled. This week I’ll be sharing a new recipe with you … Red Pea Soup. And, of course, it’s chock full of hearty yellow yams!
 

Ingredient of the Weekyellow yams
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  • Angela

    There are many different type of yams at the local supermarket, not carribean or African upermarket, non called yellow yam. Is there another name for the yellow yam?

    • Terry

      I found the Yelllow Yams at No Frills. , in Sutton West, Ontario.
      A Jamaican fellow bought a section of yam, which the produce
      girl cut for him. Now I just need to know lhow to cook it. The
      Jamaican fellow was very hard to understand, so I am winging it.

      • Peta-Gaye

        you just wash the dirt off the skin and proceed to peel off the skin if you plan to boil it. Try not to let the skin touch any part of your skin, or it will itch, a lot. bring some water to boil, cut the yam to your desired size, and just boil til the texture is right for you (test by pushing a fork or knife into the yam, it should go through without much effort)

  • Pendo

    i love me some yams especially fried or pounded:)

  • Heather

    I buy yellow yams from an Asian market. My family loves them but all too often when I get them home, I find that they are brown inside. Is this mold? Is there a way to tell from looking at the outside which yams are fresh or not?

    • Cook Like A Jamaican

      Hi Heather,
      When cut the end of the yellow yam will heal so you can’t see the fresh yellow flesh inside. Usually if you ask at the market they will cut a large piece then you can see the quality. If not, I suggest you purchase middle piece not an end, which can also be bitter. Good luck! Fay