This is the last blog post before Thanksgiving 2014. We hope you all have plans for a wonderful and safe holiday filled with joyful family reunions and friendship. Try not to let the stress of cooking for everyone get you down. We thought we would help you impress your guests this year by arming you with the facts to dispel two common Thanksgiving myths.
Turkey Does Not Make You Sleepy
It’s a oft-repeated trope of Thanksgiving that the amino acid tryptophan in the turkey makes everyone drowsy after the meal. Tryptophan is an important amino acid, and it is necessary for your body to manufacture serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters primarily responsible for mood and sleep. Low levels of serotonin cause depression, anxiety, and mood swings. However, turkey is no higher in tryptophan than other poultry meats, and actually contains less than chicken. The real reason you get sleepy after a Thanksgiving meal is that you’ve just stuffed yourself full of a massive portion of food. Blood is rushing to your stomach and your body is expending energy to digest all of that delicious food, so your body makes you feel tired so you don’t over-exert yourself while digesting. Imagine a boa constrictor that has just swallowed a large animal. It’s certainly not going to be doing much exercise after a meal like that.
You May Never Have Tasted a Yam
The word “yam” is colloquially used as a synonym for sweet potatoes. Most people refer to the long orange-skinned potatoes in the grocery store as “yams”. However, yams and sweet potatoes are not even distantly related. To complicate matters further, potatoes themselves are not related to either yams or sweet potatoes. Potatoes are in the Solanaceae family, yams are in the Dioscoreaceae family (say that one five times fast), and sweet potatoes are in the Convolvulaceae family. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are both dicots, meaning they have two embryonic seed leaves, while yams are monocots (they have only one embryonic seed leaf). This means that yams and sweet potatoes are as distantly related as two flowering plants can be.
Yams are common in Africa- the top 8 of the top 10 world producers are African countries, followed by Papua New Guinea and Colombia. They are popular ingredients in African and Carribbean cuisines, due to their flexibility in culinary applications. They can be baked, grilled, barbecued, smoked, boiled, fried, roasted, or made into pie. Unfortunately, true yams are not nearly as common in the US, where they have been overtaken by sweet potatoes as a more common substitute.
Have a wonderful and safe holiday, everyone!