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Oxalis tuberosa

Photo courtesy of Horticulture New Zealand


With their bright colour and glossy skin, yams look like little jewels gleaming amid the spuds and kumara in a roasting dish.

Yams are small, waxy, knobbly tubers, often about the size of a thumb. They have the crunchy texture of a carrot when raw, and a mealy, more potato-like texture when cooked. Bite into it and the creamy yellow flesh has a nutty flavour, with a lemony tang.

Yams are a good source of vitamins A and B6, fibre, and potassium. They’ll also give you riboflavin, thiamine and potassium.

Choose yams that are firm, brightly coloured, and free of blemishes. Store them in plastic bags in the fridge for up to a week.



The yam originates in the South American Andes, where it’s called oca. An important crop due to its ease of cultivation – its importance is exceeded only by the potato – it was introduced to New Zealand in about 1860, only 30 years after being brought to Europe.

It’s never been known in the wild – but there are similar wild-growing plants in the Andes.


Yams are often roasted, but can be cooked in a variety of ways. Don’t bother to peel them – it’s not necessary and as with many vegetables, much of the goodness is just under the skin. Just top and tail them, if you feel you need to.

You can steam or boil yams and mash them as you would potatoes, or they can be eaten raw in stir fries. Sliced raw yam is particularly attractive in salads, with its flower-like sunburst colouring inside that disappears on cooking.

In the Andes yams are eaten in soups and stews, while in Mexico they eat it raw with lemon, salt and chilli.


Yams are one of those confusing vegetables with multiple identities. In America, what they call yams are sweet potatoes, which we call kumara. Here, the yam is more correctly called the New Zealand yam.

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