Skip links

The Truth About Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes

This is not a Yam!

I hope each of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with your family and friends. We had our usual group of about 25 people, including the immediate family plus a few close friends who are “like family” to us.

Although I didn’t serve them at this year’s dinner, there always seems to be a debate about “Yams vs. Sweet potatoes.”

Are they really the same thing?

Do they have the same taste and texture?

Why are they often confused?

So I did a little research, because frankly, I was a bit confused. What I found out was very interesting.

First of all, I would recommend you NOT use the word YAMS…because I seriously doubt that what you’ll find in the supermarket during the holidays are true YAMS. (Even though they are often labeled as “yams.”) The name YAM probably came from the African word NYAMI referring to the edible root of the Dioscorea species and they are a tuber, and originated in about 50,000 BC. They are scaly skinned and have a kind of dry mouth feel and starchy taste. They are actually LOW in Vitamin A. (There are, however, parts of the country that sell Latin roots which are part of the yam family.)

In contrast, there are many varieties of SWEET POTATOES…with different outside skin colors, flesh colors and degrees of moisture and sweetness. I am guessing that North Carolina is the “sweet potato capital of the United States,” as that’s where I found the most detailed information.

SWEET POTATOES are actually from the Morning Glory plant family and the orange-fleshed varieties ARE high in Vitamin A. They were discovered in prehistoric times! The mouth feel is moist and the taste is sweet.

Can you tell the difference now?

Check out the photos here of the top nine produced varieties of sweet potatoes in North Carolina. Orange fleshed, white fleshed and purple fleshed — they are all true sweet potatoes.

My brother-in-law Doug always talks about the “Garnet” variety with extra enthusiasm because of its taste, but is always frustrated that they aren’t widely available. So I did a little bit of research and it was interesting to find out there is a producer in Florida who grows Garnet “Yams” (which are really Garnet Sweet Potatoes), but clearly it is not so easy to get them here in California. Maybe next year I will mail order some for him!

So, now that I have cleared up the confusion on Sweet Potatoes, I have some encouraging news! Many grocery stores are now stocking pre-cut sticks of fresh sweet potatoes for healthy sweet potato fries (baked or steamed). I’ve found them in all my local stores. They are a flavorful alternative when you want to serve a new veggie to your family. Sometimes I include them in my lunch and just micro-cook them for 2-3 minutes. Yum!

Hope you enjoy your holidays!


Leave a comment