Sweet Potatoes vs Yams (What’s the Difference?)

We all have that yams-sweet-potatoes-similarity experience, convincing ourselves and naming all the characteristics why both these crops are the same. That’s human nature – large scale categorization. The identical factors of these two implanted a conclusion in our head and we ended up convinced that their name is the only difference. But it isn’t, and you’re just confused due to a commercial practice that is too little to be bothered. Both are totally different vegetables and we’ll find out why in this article.

The Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes

Both yams and potatoes are tuberous root vegetables that come from a flowering plant, but they are not related.

Yams are native to Africa and Asia. They’re related to lilies with size than can be as small as a regular potato or as big as five feet long. Yams skin is tougher and bark-like with white, purple, or reddish flesh. They have starchier and drier texture as well, compared to sweet potatoes.

On the other hand, sweet potatoes come from the morning glory family. There are many varieties of sweet potatoes and their skin color can be white, yellow, red, purple, or brown. Here’s the catch, the most common sweet potato types are categorize into firm and soft. Firm sweet potatoes have golden skin and paler flesh while the soft sweet potatoes have copper skin and orange flesh.

A little history on how the confusion between the two sparked. Way back when the production of these two sweet potato types is at its peak, there was a need to differentiate which is which. That is when supermarkets and groceries start labeling the soft types as “yams”, even though it is clearly not true yams.

So yes, what you’re seeing in the market as “yams” are also soft sweet potatoes. Moreoever, true yams are mostly found in international and specialty markets.

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