CHASE, LA (WVUE) - With Thanksgiving meals being served this week, there’s a good chance that a sweet potato casserole or pie is on the menu. in Louisiana, that sweet orange vegetable is called a ‘yam.' So, what’s the difference?
In the fall, the sweet potatoes are being pulled out of the fields on Black Gold Darm in Delhi, LA. This is the state’s largest producer.
Some of this crop will be processed into sweet potato fries and the rest are headed for the fresh market. Todd O’Neal is the farm manager, and this is the busiest time of the year for sweet potato growers.
“Right now, we’re snapping the vines, and we’ll do that ahead of our harvest,” O’Neal said.
The farm ships a third of their crop out during Thanksgiving time because of the demand for it this time of year, according to O’Neal. The harvested potatoes are packed into wooden bins and placed in refrigerated storage buildings that can hold up to a million bushels of produce.
Each bin in the building has a tag that tells what it is, the variety, the generation, the field that it came from and the time that it came in.
I asked, “But are these sweet potatoes, or yams?”
“It was a marketing ploy to market Louisiana sweet potatoes as Louisiana yams,” O’Neal responded.
Tara Smith, professor and regional director at the LSU Sweet Potato Research Center, said the difference between a sweet potato and a yam is everything and nothing
LSU’s Sweet Potato Research Team in Chase, LA has been working for decades to improve the flavor, texture and production of sweet potatoes.
“Our producers, at the time, our sweet potato industry coined the term yam to market the sweet potatoes that they were growing to differentiate those products from what was being grown out on the east coast at the time,” Smith said.
Their varieties are primarily grown in Louisiana and across the Gulf South of the US, but they're also grown across the United States and around the world.
The Evangeline variety was released several years ago.
“It’s a really pretty sweet potato, it has a slightly reddish hint to the skin color – bright orange flesh. Evangeline is actually a really sweet sweet potato. It has twice as much sucrose,” Smith said.
The soil in that area of northeast Louisiana is perfect for sweet potato production.
“In our area we like to call it the, the mason ridge. The land when you come up out of the delta youget up into some silt loam soil,” O’Neal said.
Farming the sweet potato crop is highly labor intensive, but that can be offset by the growing popularity of sweet potatoes, or as we call them here, ‘yams.'