Skip to main content
  1. Life
  2. Home & Living
  3. Gardening

Is it a yam or a sweet potato?

See also

Plump yellow or orange tubers line the grocery aisle during the holidays, bearing the label of sweet potatoes and yams. You may be surprised to discover that sweet potatoes and yams found in the United States are all sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), unless you are shopping at an ethnic store that carries true yams (Dioscorea sp.) imported from the Caribbean, says AgriLife Extension. The confusion arises from American’s need to distinguish between two types of sweet potato.

In Name Only

Sweet potatoes and true yams are entirely different plants, but the American term sweet potato and yam apply to two types of sweet potato. The white or yellow version of the sweet potato came first and carried the common name sweet potato. When producers introduced the orange sweet potato to the market, they needed a name to differentiate it from the standard sweet potato and coined it a yam. The USDA requires the additional label of sweet potato accompany these sweet tubers when labeled as yams.

Appearance and Flavor

It isn’t just the outer skin that differs when it comes to sweet potatoes. Light-skinned varieties contain yellow or white flesh, while orange sweet potatoes have deep orange flesh similar to squash. Texture also differs. The light-skinned sweet potato tends to be drier and crumbly while the orange-skinned sweet potato contains sweet, creamy flesh.

Cooking

Sweet potatoes can be boiled, baked, pan fried or deep-fried to make sweet potato fries. They are also cooked in savory casseroles or made into sweet desserts, such as sweet potato pie. Because American sweet potatoes and yams are both sweet potatoes, they can be used interchangeably in recipes and require the same cooking time. Recipes that call for yams typically refer to orange sweet potatoes and may rely on their sweeter flavor and bright color.

True Yams

True yams (Dioscorea Sp.) differ from sweet potatoes in several ways. They require nearly a year to mature, making them impractical for American farmers, can grow up to 5 feet in length and contain fewer vitamins and nutrients. The skin of true yams range in color from off-white to brown and the flesh may be pink, white, purple or yellow. True yams are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.

You may also like:

What's the difference between yellow zucchini and yellow squash?

Advertisement

Life

  • Derek Hough
    Derek Hough brings quadruple threat talent to 'DWTS' and beyond
    Today's Buzz
  • Hookah smoking
    Young adults believe hookah smoking pose no health threat
    Camera
    7 Photos
  • Top outdoor activities
    Don't spend your summer indoors: Top outdoor activities to do with your significant other
    Camera
    10 Photos
  • Baby shower idea for men
    A new twist on baby showers is throwing a Daddy Baby-Q
    Camera
    7 Photos
  • Wedding special
    'Curvy Brides' offers a new look into every bride's pursuit for her picture perfect wedding gown
    Camera
    7 Photos
  • Morbid obesity
    Health: Morbid obesity decreases life span by up to 16 years
    Camera
    7 Photos