Dioscorea alata, known as purple yam or many other names, is a species of yam, a tuberous root vegetable. The tubers are usually vivid violet to bright lavender in colour, hence the common name, but they may sometimes be plain white. It is sometimes confused with taro and the Okinawa sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas cv. Ayamurasaki), although D. alata is also grown in Okinawa where it is known as beniimo (紅芋). With its origins in the Asian tropics, D. alata has been known to humans since ancient times.(This from Wikipedia)
Purple Sweet Potatoes vs. Purple Yams
The purple Okinawan sweet potato is grown underground and is similar to Western sweet potatoes. From the outside, this purple sweet potato looks the same but cut one open and you'll know the difference. They can be found across North America at an Asian or Chinese market, and even at some regular grocery store chains. Look for it in the fall and winter.
Filipino ube or ubi (not usually available in the U.S.) have darker, rougher-looking skin and are yams, not sweet potatoes. They grow on a vine above the ground. This vegetable is a major crop and food source in the Philippines. It also is made into a powder which is then used in Filipino desserts (you'll know them by their bright purple color).
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