Why Are Yams Important in Nigeria?

Yams are popular tuber food not only in Nigeria but also in other parts of the world, including the United States, Japan, India, etc.

But, why are yams important in Nigeria?

Yams are a more significant part of Nigerian history when it comes to food. For ages, yams serve as a source of several dishes such as pounded yam, porridge, roasted yam, fried yam, and so on. The importance of yams in Nigeria is also traced to its economic viability. Many farmers in Northern and Southern Nigeria cultivate and sell yam tubers as a means of livelihood. 

This article contains useful information about yam, including its recipe, common misconception, frequently asked questions, and health benefits. Ready to digest? Let’s get right into it!

How are Nigerian Yams Prepared?

Not a wrong question to ask. Yams have different preparation methods across different countries. In Nigeria, there are several ways to prepare yam, which we have highlighted below:


Boiling yam is a popular way of preparing yam in Nigeria. When boiled, the yam can be eaten alone or sauced with fried stew. Also, red palm oil is used as a sauce. This is an everyday recipe that dates back to our ancestors and is still practiced, especially by older adults.

Alternatively, you can use vegetable oil that is salt to taste instead of the red palm oil.

Roasted Yam 

Roasting yam is another old recipe for yam. As the name suggests, the yam is cut into round or rectangular slices and then roasted on a charcoal grill. When prepared this way, it can be eaten without adding a sauce, but most people still eat with red oil and other seasonings. 

As street food, the delicacy is sold in portable food booths (or kiosks). In fact, artisans, motorcyclists, and taxi drivers often use roasted yam as an afternoon meal.


You can also fry yam to get a recipe called fried yam (also known as Dun Dun). This is done by cutting the yam into rectangular chunks and then deep-fry them in vegetable or red palm oil.

Fufu (Pounded Yam)

Although fufu has other sauces, pounded yam is a major sauce of fufu in Africa and Nigeria, particularly. To make pounded yam, the yam is boiled and pounded in a mortar. Sometimes, it could be mixed with garri or purely yam.

Yam Porridge/Pottage

The opportunities with yam are somewhat endless. Yam porridge/pottage (Asaro) is another recipe that can equally be prepared at home. This method sometimes involves mixing yam and beans with other ingredients to form what is known as porridge yam.

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What is the Difference Between Sweet Potato and Yam?

Yam is one kind of starchy root vegetables. Of about 600 species of yam out there, only 12 are edible. The popular one is the white-fleshed yam that you can find on the Nigerian market.

But, surprisingly, the tuber food is often mistaken for other root vegetables. For example, sweet potatoes, a starchy tuber, is confused with yam by people living in America in particular. But there is a clear cut difference between the two rooty vegetables.

Sweet potatoes have thin and smooth skin while a yam has rough, dark, and sometimes hairy texture. On the inside, potatoes have white or orange flesh. For yams, the inside is either purple or usually white.

Hardly any Nigerian would mistake sweet potatoes and yam for the other as both foods are so common.

If you are out of Nigeria, perhaps living in the US., forget about the so-called yams. It’s all a facade. They aren’t actually yams but potatoes. Sweet potatoes are what you’ll find in most local groceries.

While it’s hard finding true yams in U.S food stores, you can pick them up at ethnic or African grocery stores.

Are Yams Poisonous?

Whether yams are dangerous for health is one concern of many about the rooty vegetable.

As mentioned earlier, there are edible and non-edible varieties of yam. If you take the unsuitable or poisonous type, you could be in for a severe health issue.

But let your mind be at peace as the edible yams are distinct and have been in circulation for generations. Those yams found in local stores and markets are safe to eat.

However, yam can become poisonous if eaten raw. When undercooked, yam can also cause complications and impact your health negatively. Therefore, make sure to boil, grill, bake or fry your yam correctly before consuming.

Due to its high starch content, people also wonder if yam is safe.

Starchy foods are rich in carbohydrates and other nutrients such as vitamin B.

Though some health-conscious individuals have shunned carbohydrate intake, multiple studies have found starchy-food and carbohydrates, in general, to be safe when taken in moderation.

ALSO READ: 10 Popular Vegetables in Africa

Health Benefits of Nigerian Yams

True yams (not sweet potatoes) are rich in many essential nutrients. A raw yam contains carbohydrates (24%), fiber (4%) protein (1.5%). It also packs other nutrients such as potassium and Vitamin B.

Below we are going to consider the impacts of some nutrients found in yam.


Carbohydrate is an essential nutrient that the body needs in large amounts in order to survive and thrive. Carbs are turned into glucose before entering the bloodstream and then used for energy requirements.

Experts recommend that about half of a child’s energy needs should come from carbohydrates. Looking at this, the carbs content in yam makes the food one your family food time table.

With several recipes, yam can be enjoyed in different ways and more nutritious. For example, you can sauce boiled yam with a fried stew that is blessed with assorted meats or fish for a proteinous dish.


Protein is one of the macronutrients that plays a crucial role in making new cells, bones, and tissues and replacing one out ones. The nutrient is also required by the body in large amounts and consistently for several essential activities.

Infants and kids need protein, particularly during their early stages of development. Even older adults need an ample supply of protein to preserve muscle mass and bone health.

While the protein content in true yam might not be much, having a small protein still makes it a food worth finding its way into your plate. To increase its protein content, you can sauce boiled yam or pounded yam with meat stew.

ALSO READ: 6 Popular Nigerian Soups and their Health Impacts


Potassium is another nutrient found in true yam. This nutrient helps with good heart health, muscular contraction, fluid balance, and plays a role in the regulation of blood pressure.

People suffering from potassium deficiency often experience symptoms like frequent urination, dehydration, paralysis, or muscle weakness.

With true yam being rich in potassium, your body will find yam desirable.

Nigerian Yams
Image: Pinterest

Wrap Up

Yam is very important in the history of Nigeria and other parts of west Africa.

Yam can be prepared as a stand-alone dish or served alongside other meals. There is no way you wouldn’t find a recipe that appeals to you. For a healthy fried yam recipe, see this post.

Whether eaten as is or paired with another meal, Nigerian yams are nutritious, delicious, and healthy.