Friday, December 1, 2006

Produce Topics and Tips

What is the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam?

We often have people around at our home eating with us and enjoying the great meals we make from excellent quality organic ingredients. And often discussions may be about food. Last week whilst we were all enjoying an excellent curry that I had made from Yams/Sweet Potatoes, a slight argument ensued about the difference between Yams and Sweet Potatoes. Well, we did some research on the web in an attempt to resolve the discussion, and the answer is interesting enough that I thought I would share it with you.

What's in a name? When it comes to the yam, a bit of confusion. What is marketed in the United States as "yams" are really a variety of Sweet Potato. A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.

"Yams," as the industry and general public perceives them, are actually Sweet Potatoes with a vivid orange color and a soft moist consistency when cooked, and tend to have a sweeter flavor. Other varieties of Sweet Potatoes are lighter skinned and have a firmer, drier texture when cooked. Sweet Potatoes are smooth with skins that can vary in color, depending on the variety, from pale yellow to deep purple to vivid orange. Flesh colors can range from light yellow to pink, red or orange.

Yams in the United States are actually Sweet Potatoes with relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the US Department of Agriculture requires that the label "yam" always be accompanied by "Sweet Potato."

Produce Storage Tips

There are a whole group of vegetables that we know as "winter greens", that come into their own in the cold months of the year. Cabbages, cauliflower & broccoli all grow better with cool weather and develop their best flavor and sweetness after they have been subject to frost temperatures. Here, in the northeast in January it is simply too cold to grow even these hardy winter vegetables and the reality is that most of our vegetable produce at this time of year comes from the West or from the South. Collards, Kale & Chards are also great winter greens that have far sweeter flavor at this time of the year than in the warmer months. All these vegetables keep best of stored cold in the coldest part of your fridge.

Nectarines and peaches and cherries are all stone fruit that are best stored in the coldest part of the fridge (32-36F). You can leave nectarines and peaches out at room temperature to help them to ripen, but put them in the fridge once they begin to soften. Cherries do not ripen once picked, so keep them in the fridge to prolong their life.

Pineapples are a tropical fruit that never like to get cold. Always keep them at room temperature to allow them to develop their full flavor.

Mangoes are are another tropical fruit that should never be placed in the cold. Allow them to ripen at room temperature. Did I mention that they should never be put in the fridge? If they get cold, they get chilling damage and never ripen. Never put them in the fridge. Please don't put your mangoes in the fridge (maybe, it might be a good title for a song!)

Strictly speaking, tomatoes are fruit and they do ripen after being picked and tomatoes should never, never, never be put in the fridge. Best kept warm to let them develop maximum flavor. Did mention yet that tomatoes should never be put in the fridge? It gives them chilling damage and stops their flavor development.

For most people it is appears quite obvious that by placing fruit and vegetables in the refrigerator, it helps to retain their freshness longer. However, there are quite a number of fruits and vegetables that better retain their quality characteristics other than in a refrigerator.

We all know that bananas need to ripen to develop their full natural sugar and flavor profile, and do so best out of the fridge. Ideally at around 55 degrees. but did you know that apples do not ripen once picked? Apples are best stored at 32-36 degrees. So, keep them in the fridge to maintain their crispness.

Cucumbers are a tricky one. They lose their moisture quickly in a warm environment (say, room temperature), but they also do not like the cold (just like some people I know who go to Florida in January!). A regular fridge has a temperature setting of about 38-40 degrees. Cucumbers store best at 55 degrees. At 40 degrees they tend to get chilling damage; they start to get a bit wrinkly at the ends. It doesn't really affect their eating quality but does look unsightly. We also have this problem at this time of year with cucumbers that we receive by the box, because somewhere along the transit chain, the cucumber fruit (yes, they're actually a fruit!) have been stored too cold. So, here is a suggested compromise: place your cucumbers in the fridge - not at the bottom where the fridge is coldest, but close to the top (but not near any freezing elements). Also, if you keep them in a paper or cloth bag, it draws off some the cold moisture and keeps them slightly 'warmer'. Serving suggestion: often cucumbers straight out of the fridge are too cold to eat comfortably. Consider taking them out of the fridge when you first commence your meal preparation.