What Is The Difference Between A Sweet Potato And A Yam?

What’s in a name? When it comes to the yam, a bit of confusion. 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!

That sweet, orange-colored root vegetable that you love so dearly is actually a sweet potato. Yes, all so-called “yams” are in fact sweet potatoes. Most people think that long, red-skinned sweet potatoes are yams, but they really are just one of many varieties of sweet potatoes. So where did all of the confusion come from? Let’s break down the main differences between yams and sweet potatoes!

A true yam (left) compared to an orange-fleshed sweet potato (right).

Yam vs. Sweet Potato: A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.

Depending on the variety, sweet potato flesh can vary from white to orange and even purple. The orange-fleshed variety was introduced to the United States several decades ago. In order to distinguish it from the white variety everyone was accustomed to, producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” and labeled them “yams.”

Even though the USDA requires that orange-colored sweet potatoes always be labeled “sweet potato,” most people still think of sweet potatoes as yams regardless of their true identity.

Think you know the differences between yams and sweet potatoes? Take our quiz and test your root knowledge!

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