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Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes – Which is Better?

Last Updated on October 10, 2023

When it comes to yams vs. sweet potatoes, have you ever been confused by these two at the grocery store?

Though sometimes mistaken, they are two separate crops with distinct features.

difference between yams and sweet potatoes

These high-fiber root veggies are both Caribbean and West African crops. However, they do so in very different ways.

They are both nutritious to include in a well-balanced diet, and none is nutritionally better than the other.

To clarify this confusion, this article deconstructs the distinctions between yams and sweet potatoes, from physical characteristics to nutritional qualities.

Are you ready to solve the tuber mystery?

What’s the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

are yams and sweet potatoes the same

The terms sweet potatoes and yams are sometimes confused.

While both yams and sweet potatoes are root vegetables, their tastes vary. Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are more precious and creamier than yams with starchier white flesh.

True yams are often boiled, roasted, baked, or fried. Sweet potatoes are great for sweet, syrupy meals. 

They are both tough vegetables. Due to their long shelf life, they are accessible year-round. Items may last 2–3 months if kept properly in a cool, dry place.

Structural differences

are sweet potatoes and yams the same thing

Yams are starchy, less sweet, and have tough brown skin. They may grow up to seven feet long and weigh over 100 pounds.

Sweet potatoes are New World roots with softer, reddish skin and creamier, darker interiors.

Since they are architecturally different vegetables, it is difficult to identify these root vegetables.

Yams, from the Dioscorea genus, are cylindrical with bark-like brown or black skin that is tough and scaly.

Color ranges from white to pale yellow to pink or purple flesh, depending on the kind.

Sweet potatoes have softer skins and beige to orange-red colors. They are shorter than yams. They bulge in the middle and taper to a point.

Ipomoea genus members feature white, orange, and purple sweet flesh! When cooked, sweet potatoes become creamy or fluffy, whereas yams become dry and starchy.

Botanical classifications

These root veggies are misidentified because their tubers are botanically distinct.

Yams belong to Dioscorea, while sweet potatoes belong to the Morning Glory family. This plant classification affects appearance, taste, and mouthfeel.

Yams are commonly cylindrical in shape and have scaly skin that resembles the bark of a tree and varies from light brown to dark brown. Compared to sweet potatoes, their flesh is starchier and fiercer.

However, sweet potatoes contain orange flesh that tastes sweeter and smoother. They have orange, purple, and white skin and flesh.

Where to Find Yams?

Yams are native to Africa, Asia, and the Americas. There are 870 species of yams, some of which are grown for their edible tubers and others are harmful.

Due to their invasiveness, certain yams are considered “noxious weeds” when discovered beyond their agricultural zones. 95% of these crops are grown in Africa.

True yams are becoming more common in the United States and may be found in African, Caribbean, and Asian stores.

Uncooked yams are poisonous, unlike sweet potatoes. You can cook, roast, bake, or fry them.

What Are the Different Varieties of Sweet Potato?

yam or sweet potato

There are four primary and popular varieties of sweet potatoes, namely, Beauregard, Garnet, Jewel, and Purple.

  1. Beauregard is most widely grown in the US. The potatoes’ crimson color and orange meat make them ideal for roasting, baking, and mashing.
  2. Garnet has a rich crimson exterior and vivid orange inside. Legumes keep their shape when cooking, making them popular in soups and stews.
  3. Jewel has a copper tint and yellowish flesh. Roasting and baking are ideal for them.
  4. Purple has purple skin and white flesh. These potatoes retain their form when cooking, making them great for chips and fries.

The Confusion and Mislabeling of Yams and Sweet Potatoes

The confusion between yams and sweet potatoes originated during the transatlantic slave trade.

True yams (Dioscorea), a large hairy tropical root, were delivered to ships carrying enslaved Africans to America.

The misunderstanding and mixup resulted from Louisiana sweet potato growers promoting new orange-fleshed varieties of sweet potatoes as a yam in the 1930s to distinguish their crop from those of other states—and the name stuck.

The African languages’ verbs nyam, nyami, enyame, and nyambi—tasting or eating—form the name “yam.”

The regions from Africa, South America, and the Caribbean are tropical climates where yams grow. The Louisiana Sweet Potatoes trade organization promoted misunderstanding between these root vegetables in the U.S.

Julian C. Miller developed a new sweet potato variety at the Louisiana Experiment Station with creamier, less tangled flesh, a more delicate skin, and more vitamin A than conventional sweet potatoes.

True yams have coarse, bark-like skin and are cylindrical, whereas sweet potatoes usually have softer skin and vary in shape.

Currently, USDA regulations require yam labeling to mention “sweet potatoes” even though they are not yams.

Culinary Uses and Recipes for Yams and Sweet Potatoes

sweet potatoes sauteed

They provide various culinary alternatives, from classic Thanksgiving casseroles to creative desserts.

Their caramelized taste will improve any meal, whether roasted, broiled, or baked into fries.

Don’t miss out on tasty dishes like candied yams, roasted sweet potato and black bean tacos, and delicious cinnamon-spiced yam bread pudding because these adaptable tubers will wow your guests in the kitchen.

Suppose you are in search of a savory dish. In that case, it’s best to prepare a delectable sweet potato casserole that is enhanced by adding bacon, cheese, and various herbs.

Alternatively, if one desires a delectable treat, one may prepare a luscious sweet potato pie infused with the delightful flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Red or purple yams are frequently found and used in sweets in Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. This exquisite dessert is suitable for any occasion. 

Whether one prefers the natural sweetness of yams or the versatile nature of sweet potatoes, these recipes are guaranteed to provide a delightful culinary experience.

Health benefits

red potato varieties

Both tubers are rich in vitamins and minerals that support health. Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, which helps eyesight, cell development, and immunity.

Yams are rich in vitamin C, which boosts collagen formation and immunity. Both are high in fiber, which promotes digestion and cardiovascular health. They also provide complex carbs that deliver energy slowly.

Antioxidants also be found in them like beta-carotene and anthocyanins in these tubers lessen inflammation.

Eating these root vegetables might help you lose weight. These veggies have a lower glycemic index than off-white potatoes or processed grains, stabilizing blood sugar.

(Source: Sweet Potato and Yam from Healthlline )

The Bottom Line

Finally, although yams and sweet potatoes are sometimes used interchangeably in ordinary language, they are separate tuberous plants with distinct features.

There’s more to these root veggies than meets the eye, from structural distinctions and botanical classifications to flavor variations and culinary purposes.

Understanding the ambiguity and mislabeling surrounding yams vs. sweet potatoes is essential for understanding their particular nutritional advantages and exploring the variety of tasty meals they can offer on our menus.

So, the next time you go shopping or plan a dinner, carefully select between these root veggies – your body will thank you!

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No, these root veggies are not interchangeable. They are entirely different species and have significant flavor, texture, and aesthetic distinctions. 


Vardaman is among one of the top five sweet potato-producing regions in Mississippi.

The Vardaman Sweet Potato Festival, commonly called the National Sweet Potato Festival, takes place every November for the entire first week. Vardaman has been dubbed the “World’s Sweet Potato Capital.” 


While yams may be used instead of sweet potatoes in specific recipes, it’s crucial to remember that they have distinct tastes and textures.

Yams are like yuca, starchier and drier in texture than sweet potatoes, which have a sweeter flavor.

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