Pop Quiz: Sweet Potato or Yam?

Sweet potatoes and yams are constantly confused for one another, but the the truth is what you’ve been calling a yam is most likely a sweet potato. Even more, it’s possible that you’ve never even tasted a yam! Do you know the difference? Take our quiz and test your root knowledge!


1. I am a tuberous root with sweet moist flesh.
2. I am orginially from Africa and am hardly sold in U.S. markets.
3. I am super sweet and can grow over 7 feet in length!
4. My skin can range from thin and pale to dark and thick.
5. I am toxic when eaten raw, but perfectly safe when cooked.
6. I am known for my high content of Vitamins A and C.
7. I have rough skin that is difficult to peel and can even be hairy at times, but it softens when baked.
8. My flesh can sometimes be purple!
9. I have an oblong body with tapered ends.
10. I have a very low glycemic index – a special health benefit to diabetics.


1. Both. Sweet potatoes and yams are considered tuberous roots and both are sweet and delicious.
2. Yam. Are you surprised? Yams grow in tropical climates, primarily in South America, Africa
and the Caribbean.

3. Yam. They have a higher sugar content than sweet potatoes and can grow to be enormous!
4. Sweet potato. Paler skinned sweet potatoes have white flesh which is not as sweet and moist as the darker skinned, orange flesh sweet potatoes.
5. Yam. Unlike the sweet potato, yams must be cooked to be safely eaten. Preparation is a time-consuming process involving several minutes of pounding and boiling to remove toxins.
6. Sweet potato. Yams do not contain as much Vitamin A and C as sweet potatoes.
7. Yam. Sweet potato skin is thinner and smoother.
8. Both. Purple Okinawan sweet potato is often confused with the purple yam called ube.
9. Sweet potato. It can be short and fat or long and thin, but it will always taper at the ends.
10. Both. The sweet potato and yam are also both loaded with potassium, magnesium and phosphorous.



49 comments on “Pop Quiz: Sweet Potato or Yam?

  1. Pingback: Yam Land « Now I Know Archives

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    • Just got back from the farmer ‘s market. I wanted some sweet potatoes and said I could never find them at Safeway or any other grocery store. He said, trying to hold back his laughter,” ma’m yams and sweet potatoes are the same. I grow things.Sweet potatoes are yams when they are cooked with marshmallows, etc. I grow them. Who the heck started calling sweet potatoes yams? Before you know it some
      one in the grocery world will call apples pears!

    • Hi Mike,
      Have you had any luck yet with importing the real yams?
      I am also very interested in trying to buy some.
      Thanks! Sumitra 😉

  3. I read about it in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” in German Language: Der Unsichtbare Mann. In there the protagonist talks about a very delicious food with a baked crisp skin, very fine to eat with a thin film of butter. Although he is talking about Sweet Potatoes, he also uses the word Yams.
    The Original Book is edited in 1952. – Thank for your detailed information. To get through to this I contacted a facebook-friend who lives partly in Germany, and S.Car’lina.

  4. Great Article! Im a fan of sweet potatoes, true Yams and other roots. Both are way to different in taste and texture. While trying to find the true Yam at various grocery stores, I was intrigued about the incorrect labels. Still have no luck finding true Yams at markets. Im from Puerto Rico and if you like tubers vegetables, I recommend you try a codfish salad recipe. It combines codfish with a variety of tubers such as yams, sweet potatoes, yucca or cassava, taro and so on…

  5. Petition the USDA to get back to work, regulate & change the labeling guidelines, and post monthly reports to the President with penalties for those federal servants who are only paycheck bandits. Get back to work!!!!!

    • Well, I think grocers may have started to do this to help sell the new item so that people weren’t comparing them to other potatoes. It continues to be sold this way because it is the way people refer to the tuber, calling it a yam. You certainly can’t tell people from the south they haven’t been eating yams all these years. Only if we started to get real yams from other parts of the world (I.e. Africa, Japan) then they would need to make the change.

  6. I think the confusion holds back impulse buys of sweet potatoes. E.g., if stores mislabel some of them as yams, an average US customer might just skip the sweet potato section and just buy potatoes. A marketing effort that got grocery stores to use the variety name would, I bet, increase sales. Potatoes are always listed as varieties (e.g., Yukon Gold potatoes), probably for this reason. It would be great to get a chain to volunteer half their stores to do this, to get data. Would help if suppliers (and perhaps nssweetpotatoes?) shipped ready-made labels (Beauregard sweet potato) that featured photograph of cross-section showing flesh. That’s my 2 cents.

  7. I could never understand why Canadians and Americans called potatoes yams. When I tell them there are potatoes, they look at me as though I am stupid. When I explain what yams are like and the taste, they think I’ve really gone mad. Don’t ever tell them that tapioca is from the cassava root. Is this dumb or what? When we call an avocado a pear, they tell us it is NOT a pear its an avocado. So I counter with, Bartlett, Bosc, Anjou, Ya, Fiorelle, etc. They are all pears. Something is lacking in North American education.

  8. Pingback: Recipe Review – Sweet Potato Chickpea Buddha Bowl | Confident Beginner

  9. I still need to learn when to harvest my sweet potatoes although I think only one made it. I loved the article and the information just need to learn more

  10. My husband still wanted to argue with me about sweet potato vs yam. Said that’s what it says in the stores!
    I finally read a few things to him to convince him that they all are sweet potatoes.
    Would love to show this to the produce manager in our local store (s). Do you think they would be permitted to change labeling?

  11. this is the most insane thing I have ever heard in my entire life. good god, how did i even live before. I love you all.

  12. Well that sucks. I’m on a diet that considers yam slow carbs (better for you since they affect your blood sugar slowly) and sweet potatoes fast carbs (worse for you because they cause your blood sugar to spike and drop quickly). You can either have 1 fast & 1 slow, 1 fast, or 3 slow & no fast so I opt for yams because 3 servings is more filling (and supposedly better for you, which is why you can have 3 of slow as opposed to 1 of each). But it sounds like most of the times I’ve done that I’ve probably been eating sweet potatoes (and more servings than I was supposed to). I always buy them from stores that claim to carry both (plus, the skin was more like bark than potato skin) so hopefully the ones labeled yams really were.

  13. Thank you for this information. I was so confused and could not understand why I could not find a market that sold sweet potatoes, each market labeled them as Yams. I then approached to senior Caribbean ladies and was told that YAMS and Sweet Potatoes were 2 different things. They obviously was referring to a true Yam which I am sure they may have seen and even eaten in the native country. I learned a lot today and now will go and just purchase the yams at the market knowing that they are the sweet potatoes I been looking for so long. 🙂

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