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!