Yesterday I was asked whether white Dioscorea alata yams or purple Dioscorea alata yams were better to grow.
“I actually used the link that another commenter left, and ordered a few little fellers on Ebay. There were a lot of the purple yams, but I wanted to start with the white ones. When it comes to eating or growing, do you have a preference? I will probably order some purple ones too. (Unless you say don’t!)”
That is a good question, and it depends on how you gauge your gardening success.
The white wild form of D. alata is quite vigorous and gives you a large harvest.
And… the purple yams are purple.
It may be that the anthocyanin content of the purple yams makes them healthier for you, but I’m not sure both are species of D. alata.
We primarily grow the white varieties as they produce excellently and take zero work. The purple varieties also take zero work, but give half the yield.
We haven’t noticed much difference in flavor.
There is a catch however, when you compare them in the marketplace rather than for home consumption: the purple yams are almost certainly more valuable on the market, especially if you have a thriving Filipino community.
This year, I plan to grow as many purple yams as possible, with the hope of selling them in Pensacola. The purple variety of D. alata is known as ube yam among Filipinos. It is prized in desserts, especially at the holidays.
One day, Rachel and I drove to at least four different ethnic markets in Pensacola in search of yams at the one market where we found them they were selling ube yam. They cost five dollars per pound. That is a high enough price to make it worthwhile as a crop, especially considering its rarity inside of the United States.
Most backyard gardeners are unlikely to use ube as market crop; hence for maximum production and homestead use, I recommend growing the white wild-ish variety of D. alata, unless you are Filipino or plan to sell your yams to the Filipino community, in which case you should concentrate on purple ube.
Finally, if you can get improved white D. alata types, they are really excellent; however, I haven’t been able to find any inside the US. They are not as vigorous as the big lumpy types, but they are much easier to process and their flesh is less grainy and much better for cooking.