Difference between: sweet potatoes and yams

This week’s Difference Between, like last week’s, is between two vegetables: sweet potatoes and yams. Although I wasn’t originally going for it, I also have a “winner” between the two.


You think you’re buying a sweet potato at the store, but it’s labeled as a yam. What gives?

Thanks to HuffingtonPost.com, BonAppetit.com, LiveStrong.comAGMRC.org, and TasteOfHome.com for the following information.

Firstly, sweet potatoes are not actual potatoes; they’re in the morning glory family. Originating in South America, there are several varieties of sweet potatoes in existence. However, there are two main types in this country: one with creamy white flesh, and one with orange – both are about the same size. 

The USDA labels the orange variety “yams” in order to decipher between the two. The Agriculture Marketing Research Center says, “Most yams marketed in the United States are sweet potatoes with a relatively moist texture and orange flesh.”

Yams are actually not quite readily available in the US, and are rarely grown here. Native to Central America, yams are grown in Africa, Asia, and other tropical areas. In fact, the word “yam” comes from an African word meaning “to eat.”

Sweet potatoes have a smoother skin than yams, and also a sweeter taste, particularly the orange-fleshed variety. Yams, on the other hand, are rough-skinned, starchy, and bland.

But wait, it gets better.

Not only do sweet potatoes taste better than yams, but they are also more nutritious. Although sweet potatoes have slightly more carbohydrates than yams, they have 5 grams of protein in an 8 ounce serving, while yams have only 2.

However, it is the Vitamin A that really blows it out of the water: 8 ounces of sweet potatoes supply 270% of your daily requirement of Vitamin A; the same amount of yams offers a mere 1% in comparison.

Sorry yams, but it would appear most Americans don’t even miss your lack of availability in the states.

The winner is clear: cheers to sweet potatoes! 


7 thoughts on “Difference between: sweet potatoes and yams

  1. Thank you so much for this, so many people get it incorrect. It’s really unbelievable how many restaurants pass “yam fries” across the table when they mean sweet potato.

  2. can you just tell us which potato it is shown in the above picture? Is sweet potato the one on the right or left? i bought sweet potato at a grocery store and it looks like the one on the right(light brown)

    1. I apologize for not seeing this sooner – I was having issues with the commenting system. I do believe the sweet potato is on the left and the yam is on the right. I would be skeptical that you actually bought a yam, but of course I could be wrong!

      1. yes i agree ( i am from the philippines and we enjoy these tubers.. the sweet potatoes as well as the yams)

  3. Did you not read the Huffington post? I submit the following copied directly: Yams (family Dioscoreaceae) are native to Africa and Asia and other tropical regions. Yams are starchy tubers that have an almost black bark-like skin and white, purple or reddish flesh and come in many varieties. The tubers can be as small as regular potatoes or grow upwards of five feet long.

    They are not native to Central America. They are an old world plant. Although you might not think of Wikapedia as being a legitimate site for information, it agrees with this (although it gets more specific as to types of yams).

    1. Yes, I did read that Huffington Post article – I actually link to it in the beginning of my post.

      And yes, you appear to be correct – I did mention yams being cultivated early on in Africa and Asia, but not that they originated there. Sweet potatoes are the ones that came from Central America, not yams. Thanks for pointing that out.

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