Types of Yams in Nigeria

Yams are one of the staple foods in our Nigerian diet that is rich in many vitamins and minerals. Yam tubers could be used to prepare so many Nigerian dishes such as fried yam, boiled yam, pounded yam, yam porridge, beans and yam porridge, and yam flour which is used to make poundo yam and amala. Nigeria is one of the largest producers of yam in the world. The tubers of yams could be white, cream, purple, or pink depending on the variety and maturity. Another outstanding feature of yams in Nigeria is that in southeastern Nigeria, yams have their own festival known as the New yam festival which is celebrated yearly to mark the beginning of the harvest season of the yams. In this article, the different types of yams found in Nigeria would be addressed extensively.

Types of Yams in Nigeria

The types of yams in Nigeria would be discussed below:

  • Dioscorea rotundata

This type of yam is also known as white guinea yam. Another name for Dioscorea rotundata is white yam. This yam is one of the most important species of yam in Africa. Dioscorea rotundata shares similarities with Dioscorea cayennensis which is another yam variety that is grown in Africa. 

Dioscorea rotundata is a yam variety that can weigh as much as 25 kilograms. An average tuber of this yam weighs between 2 and 5 kilograms. This particular yam does not only grow in Nigeria but also grows in Ghana and Ivory Coast, other West African countries.

  • Dioscorea dumetorum

Dioscorea dumetorum is another yam known for its bitter taste. It is a yam variety found in Nigeria and other African countries. Dioscorea dumetorum is also known as cluster yam. The cultivation of this yam variety does not need hard labour. It is very easy to cultivate. This yam is mostly planted in the eastern part of Nigeria. 

One fact about Dioscorea dumetorum is that it has a wild variety that contains toxins such as dihydrodioscorins. These toxins can be removed if the yam is soaked in water for a while and properly cooked. The Ibibio people of Akwa Ibom state call Dioscorea dumetorum “anem”. The Yoruba people of the southwestern part of Nigeria call this yam “esuni”.

  • Dioscorea bulbifera

Dioscorea bulbifera is also known as bitter yam, air yam, or air potato. This yam variety is known for its bulbils which grow at the base of leaves shaped like potatoes. This is why it is known as air potato. Dioscorea bulbifera is a yam variety that is not grown for commercial purposes but grown in small family gardens. This yam weighs about 2 kilograms. The bulbils are what is important about the yam. It is considered better food than tubers. 

Dioscorea bulbifera is popularly known as up-yam in Nigerian pidgin English. This is because the yam is mostly grown for its bulbils other than its tubers. The tubers of this yam are also shaped like potatoes. The variety of this yam that can be eaten is always bitter, although the bitterness can be removed if it is properly cooked by boiling just as you do with other yam varieties and potatoes.

  • Dioscorea esculenta

Dioscorea esculenta is another yam variety found in Nigeria. This yam is also called lesser yam. With its origin in Asia, the lesser yam as it is also called is one of the earlier yam varieties that was ever planted. This yam variety is mostly not cultivated in large commercial quantities but is grown in small quantities. 

Dioscorea esculenta has small-looking tubers that encourage mechanized farming. If you cook this yam, you would discover that the yam is quite easy to cook as it does not require much. This yam variety has a good aroma. The leaves of the Dioscorea esculenta plant are very soft and shaped like a heart. The stem of the Dioscorea esculenta plant is slim and round.

  • Dioscorea alata

Dioscorea alata is also known as purple yam because of its purple colour. Although you can also find Dioscorea alata in white or cream colour. This variety of yams has its origin rooted in Asia. Aside from being cultivated in Nigeria and other African countries, the Winger yam as it is also called is one of the most cultivated yam varieties in the world. 

In Nigeria, aside from the white yam, this yam variety is also popular. The tubers of Dioscorea alata are purple and big. This yam is also processed to get starch. The yam grows between 8 and 10 months. After a while, the plants become static for about 4 months. You can find this yam variety in our Nigerian commodity markets. 

  • Dioscorea praehensilis

Another yam type found in Nigeria is the Dioscorea praehensilis. This yam variety is an original African yam. It is mostly found in rainforests and tropical forests. Dioscorea cayennensis and Dioscorea rotundata yam varieties get their origins from this yam variety, as the Dioscorea praehensilis is their wild ancestor. 

At the start of every rainy season, the Dioscorea praehensilis always revives its stems. During the dry season, the roots of the Dioscorea praehensilis attain their ultimate starch reserves. 

Yams are rich in potassium and fibre. They are also rich in Vitamin C and copper is important for the formulation of red blood cells. The Vitamin C in yams boosts our immune system. This is why yams should be included in your diet. Another nutritional benefit of consuming yams is that they boost and enhance memory and brain function. This is due to the presence of diosgenin in yams. Also, yams have been proven to enhance our digestive health as it increases certain digestive enzymes that help our digestive system to break down food. 

One distinctive feature of yam is that aside from being the king staple food of the Igbo people in southeastern Nigeria, it is used as part of the customary requirements in the traditional marriage rites in many Nigerian communities as the grooms are always asked by that brides’ families to bring a large quantity of yam as part of the requirements. 

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