Say ‘yes’to yams | Daily News

Say ‘yes’to yams

Sri Lanka is a country rich in floral diversity which has a considerable number of edible and non-edible roots and tuber varieties. This important resource is commonly known as ‘yams.’ These include roots and tubers indigenous to the country as well as some varieties introduced and naturalized in the country. The traditional knowledge of the cultivation of these roots and tubers have been passed on from generation to generation.

Manioc or called ‘manniocca’ by rural Sri Lankan folk is loved by thousands of Sri Lankans! Manioc is the truly international Yam! The Portuguese introduced Rambutan but they also introduced the Manioc Yam to Sri Lanka! It originated in South America and the winds brought it to Sri Lanka!

Manioc has its place in folklore! In the Amazon jungles, according to legend, lived a beautiful princess named Mani who fell in love with a prince who did not return her love. Stricken with grief, she ordered her people to kill and bury her. Out of her grave grew the beautiful white manioc that provided sustenance for her people.

In Sri Lankan cuisine it is boiled with tumeric, accompanied with fresh grated coconut and lunu miris (onion/chillie sambal), curried to be eaten with rice.

When it comes to Yams, Senior Lecturer, Former Director, Institute of Indigenous Medicine, University of Colombo, Dr. Swarna Hapuarachchi swears by Damayanthi Godamulla who has published a book called Indigenous Tuber Crops That Brings Health and Well Being.

“The ancient glory of Sri Lanka rested upon the local food we found on our own. Within that, the indigenous tuber varieties rich in taste, quality and nutrition occupied a significant place in the diet we consumed. The local foods, customs and culinary arts have gradually become distant with the coming of the open economy system. The threat of extinction faced by the indigenous tuber varieties has increased the tendency towards artificial foods to take possession of our kitchen. The outcome of this is the abundance of chronic diseases such as Diabetes, High blood pressure and Heart failures which seriously affects the health of our people,” said Hapuarachchi (quoting Godamulla).

In the year 2001 there was a project aimed at protecting the varieties facing extinction by popularizing them amongst families. It was an attempt to popularize the indigenous yams island wide. By now, these varieties are grown in home gardens of 500 farmers and they have begun to consume them and to sell the remainder to other farmers as seeds.

These days the young girls show little inclination towards the kitchen and the women in modern- day Sri Lankan society possess little knowledge on how to utilize (culinary methods) these tubers. In this world of instant food like Pizza, Hamburger and French fries, the information on preparing the indigenous tubers as food items must be made available because of their nutritional and medicinal values.

“I fear that the health of Sri Lankan children is declining! They are eating all these artificial foods. Researchers have verified that unhealthy foods make children below 5 years of age vulnerable to diseases such as hemoptysis (Hemoptysis is the coughing up of blood or blood-stained mucus from the bronchi, larynx, trachea, or lungs) and malnutrition. It is because of these impure foreign foods which have already invaded the local market slowly but surely putting our future generation at risk. We should think twice before we feed our children with these toxic foods. This is why we need to put the spotlight on our ancient foods,” stated Hapuarachchi.

With changing times and fading traditions, as well as centuries of colonialism, much of the knowledge on traditional Sri Lankan yams that grew naturally on our land were never passed on to future generations. As a result of current trends, cultivation of yams mainly includes a few varieties such potatoes, manioc and sweet potatoes. The traditional culinary customs of the island reflect the interaction between its citizens and the indigenous flora. It should not be forgotten that the island's fertile soil has throughout history provided Lankans with nutritious food sources, and this knowledge should be preserved.

However, there is good news. An attempt has been made to document such knowledge. Even though it was almost two decades ago. In 2001, the UN Development Program, in collaboration with the Community Development Centre of the village of Aranayake in the Kegalle district, conducted a research program to document the various types of yams, their health and nutritional benefits, the best methods of preparation and other factors related to the cultivation of these edible roots and tubers.

The main objective of this project was to encourage more farmers to cultivate the lesser known, and lesser grown varieties of yams which are found in the country, in the hopes of increasing agricultural self-sufficiency among the villagers.



* Packed with nutrition

Yams are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They’re particularly rich in potassium, manganese, copper, and vitamin C.

* May enhance brain function

Yams contain a unique compound called diosgenin, which may enhance memory and brain function.

* May ease symptoms of menopause

Yams may help alleviate symptoms of menopause. Still, the evidence is mixed, and more studies are needed to support these claims.

* May have cancer-fighting properties

Animal and test-tube studies suggest that the antioxidants in yams may have anticancer effects. Still, human studies are lacking.

* May reduce inflammation

The rich antioxidant content of yams helps reduce inflammation related to various diseases. However, more human research is needed to confirm these results

* May improve blood sugar control

Several animal studies have found that yams improve blood sugar control. The effects are thought to be due to their rich resistant starch and dietary fiber contents.



A root is a compact, often enlarged storage organ with hairy stems that develops from root tissue. A tuber is also a root. More specifically, it's an enlarged storage organ, but it develops from elongated stem tissue, or rhizome.

So, a tuber is a root crop, but a plant can be a root and not a tuber. Roots have several functions - anchoring the plant, absorbing water and minerals, pumping these to the rest of the plant, storage of food and water, initiation, coordination and communication of innumerable vital life processes. Tubers also grow underground, but they have only one function - to store food - carbohydrates, vitamins.