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

The sweet, orange-colored root vegetable that is often thought of as a yam in the United States is actually a sweet potato. All so-called yams are 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?

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

A true yam is a starchy edible tuber that is generally imported from the Caribbean. It differs greatly from the sweet potato in taste, texture, appearance and family.

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 difference? Take our quiz to find out!

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