What Is the Difference Between a Yam and a Sweet Potato: A Clear and Knowledgeable Explanation
As a chemist and a home nutritionist, I am often asked about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes.
Many people use these terms interchangeably, but they are actually two distinct vegetables.
In this article, we will look at an explanation of the differences between yams and sweet potatoes, including
- their origins
- culinary uses
Do Yams Equal Sweet Potatoes? Yams differ from sweet potatoes. Characterized by a coarse, bark-like exterior, yams possess a dry, starchy interior similar to standard potatoes. In contrast, sweet potatoes feature a smooth, reddish outer layer, tender insides upon cooking, and exhibit a sugary or sweeter taste.
Yams and sweet potatoes are both root vegetables but come from different plant families.
Yams are native to Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean, while sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America. Yams are usually larger and have rough, bark-like skin, while sweet potatoes are smaller and have smoother skin.
The word Yam is thought to have come from an African language and out of words like “nyami” or “nyam” which translate to eat or taste.
Another reason for the confusion is also because of the oca in New Zealand, which is also called a yam. It also came from the famous “purple yam” of Okinawa, which is also a sweet potato and not a true yam. Singaporeans and Malaysians also refer to the “yam” as taro.
Lastly, the United States refers to the dark-skinned potato as “yams” in order to distinguish it from paler sweet potatoes.
The flesh of yams is usually white or yellow, while sweet potatoes can be orange, yellow, or purple.
Despite their differences, yams and sweet potatoes are nutritious and versatile ingredients in many cuisines worldwide.
Lastly, the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) demands that the term “yam” should be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato.”
- Yams and sweet potatoes are two distinct root vegetables that come from different plant families.
- Yams are usually larger and have rough, bark-like skin, while sweet potatoes are smaller and have smoother skin.
- Both yams and sweet potatoes are nutritious and versatile ingredients in many cuisines around the world.
Understanding Yams and Sweet Potatoes
Although these two root vegetables are often used interchangeably (especially at supermarkets), they are actually quite different.
Yams are a type of starchy root vegetable that belongs to the Dioscorea genus. They are native to Africa and Asia and have been a staple food in these regions for centuries. Yams are typically larger than sweet potatoes and have a rough, scaly skin that is difficult to peel. The flesh of a yam is usually white or yellow and has a dry, starchy texture.
On the other hand, sweet potatoes are a member of the Ipomoea genus and are closely related to morning glories.
They are native to Central and South America and were first cultivated by the Incas over 5,000 years ago. Sweet potatoes also belong to the Morning Glory family.
Sweet potatoes are smaller than yams and have a smooth, thin skin that is easy to peel. The flesh of a sweet potato can range in color from white to orange to purple and has a sweet, moist texture.
Sweet potatoes are often touted as a healthier alternative to regular potatoes because have more fiber and nutrients, like beta carotene and vitamin A. But in the grand scheme of things, they have similar profiles.
Despite their differences, sweet potatoes and yams are often used interchangeably in the United States. This is because many grocery stores label sweet potatoes as “yams” to differentiate them from other varieties of sweet potatoes. This mislabeling has led to confusion among consumers and has made it difficult to distinguish between the two vegetables.
In Indonesia, sweet potatoes are commonly used in traditional dishes such as gado-gado and bubur candil.
In Vietnam and the Philippines, sweet potatoes are used in desserts such as sweet potato cake and bibingka.
In Africa, yams are often boiled or roasted and served as a side dish. In the Caribbean, yams are used in dishes such as yam soup and yam pie.
Despite their differences, both vegetables are nutritious and delicious, and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Characteristics and Varieties
There are over 600 sweet potato varieties of sweet potatoes, but the most common ones in the US are the Garnet, Jewel, and Covington.
Garnet sweet potatoes have darker skin and bright orange flesh, while the Jewel variety has copper skin and deep orange flesh. Covington sweet potatoes have rose-colored skin and pale flesh.
On the other hand, yams come in different varieties, including white, yellow, and purple. They are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes and have a mild flavor that tends towards slightly sweet, nutty, or even meaty.
In summary, while both sweet potatoes and yams have some similarities, they have distinct differences in terms of their shape, skin, and flesh color, as well as their flavor and texture.
Taste and Texture Differences
When it comes to taste and texture, sweet potatoes and yams have some noticeable differences. Sweet potatoes have a softer texture and a sweeter taste than yams. They are also less starchy and more moist than yams.
On the other hand, yams are drier and starchier than sweet potatoes. They have a firm, almost woody texture, and a less sweet taste. In fact, most yams are not very sweet and taste like a potato or yuca.
It’s important to note that the taste and texture of sweet potatoes and yams can vary depending on the variety and how they are prepared.
Overall, the taste and texture differences between sweet potatoes and yams are noticeable (e.g purple flesh, but not extreme.)
Culinary Uses and Preparation
When it comes to culinary uses and preparation, both sweet potatoes and yams are versatile ingredients that can be used in a variety of dishes. Here are some common ways to prepare and use these root vegetables:
Both sweet potatoes and yams can be cooked in a variety of ways, including baking, boiling, roasting, frying, and steaming. Baking and roasting are great options for bringing out the natural sweetness of these vegetables while boiling and steaming are good for preserving their nutritional value.
Mashed Sweet Potatoes
Mashed sweet potatoes are a delicious and healthy alternative to mashed potatoes. They can be made with butter, cream, and spices and are a great side dish for any meal.
Candied yams are a popular Southern dish that is made by boiling sweet potatoes and then baking them with a sweet syrup made from brown sugar, butter, and spices. The result is a sweet, sticky side dish perfect for the holidays.
Stews and Fried Dishes
Sweet potatoes and yams can also be used in stews and fried dishes. They are great in curries and stews, where they add a natural sweetness and depth of flavor. They can also be used in fried dishes like sweet potato fries or yam tempura.
Flour and Dough
Sweet potato flour and yam flour are also available and can be used in baking and cooking. Sweet potato flour can be used in pancakes, waffles, and muffins, while yam flour is commonly used in African cuisine to make dough for fufu and other dishes.
Both sweet potatoes and yams are great in casseroles. They can be used as a base for a vegetarian casserole or combined with other ingredients, such as chicken or beef, to make a hearty and flavorful dish.
Overall, sweet potatoes and yams are versatile and delicious ingredients that can be used in a variety of dishes. Whether you’re looking for a sweet or savory dish, these root vegetables are sure to add flavor and nutrition to your meals.
Confusion and Mislabeled Products
When it comes to yams and sweet potatoes, there is a lot of confusion about the difference between the two. This is because the terms “yam” and “sweet potato” are often used interchangeably in the United States, even though they are actually two different vegetables.
This mislabeling can be traced back to the mid-20th century, when Louisiana farmers began calling their sweet potatoes “yams” to differentiate them from other varieties. The name stuck, and now many Americans associate sweet potatoes with the term “yam.”
To make matters even more confusing, there are several different varieties of sweet potatoes, each with unique characteristics.
The two most common types of sweet potatoes in the US are the paler-skinned, dry-fleshed variety and the darker-skinned, moist-fleshed variety.
The confusion between yams and sweet potatoes is not just a matter of semantics. It can also have real-world consequences for consumers.
For example, canned “yams” sold in the US are often actually sweet potatoes that have been mislabeled. This can be a problem for people who are looking for true yams for specific recipes or dietary needs.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
As a nutritionist, I have often been asked about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes in terms of their nutritional value. While both are root vegetables and have a similar appearance, there are some differences in their nutrient content.
Both yams and sweet potatoes are highly nutritious and are a great source of vitamins and minerals. However, sweet potatoes are considered to be more nutritious than yams.
Sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, and potassium, while yams are lower in these nutrients.
Sweet potatoes also contain more fiber than yams, which is important for maintaining good digestive health.
One of the key differences between yams and sweet potatoes is their sugar content. Yams are lower in sugar and have a lower glycemic index than sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are higher in sugar.
In summary, both yams and sweet potatoes are nutritious and can be a healthy addition to your diet. However, sweet potatoes are considered to be more nutritious and are higher in sugar than yams. If you are watching your blood sugar levels, yams may be a better choice for you.
What Are the Nutritional Facts of Sweet Potatoes?
It is a no-brainer how sweet potatoes are incredibly good for the body. According to the USDA, a 100 gram of sweet potatoes has:
- 3 grams of fiber
- 4.2 grams of sugar
- 337 mg of potassium
- 20 grams of total carbohydrates
- 86 calories
- 283% vitamin A
- 10% vitamin B-6
- 4% Calcium
* percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
What Are the Nutritional Facts of Yam?
Yam is also packed with all types of nutrients that you need for your body. According to the USDA, a 100 gram of yam has:
- 4.1 grams of fiber
- 0.5 grams of sugar
- 816 mg of potassium
- 28 grams of total carbohydrates
- 118 calories
- 28% vitamin C
- 5% magnesium
- 2% vitamin A
- * percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
Another important commercial aspect of yams and sweet potatoes is their shelf life. Both vegetables have a relatively long shelf life when stored properly, but sweet potatoes tend to last longer than yams.
Pre-Peeled and Frozen
Pre-peeled and frozen yams and sweet potatoes are becoming increasingly popular in the food industry. Pre-peeled vegetables save time and labor costs for restaurants and food manufacturers.
However, it’s important to note that pre-peeled and frozen vegetables can be more expensive than their fresh counterparts.
Finally, yams and sweet potatoes are versatile vegetables that can be used in various dishes. They can be mashed, roasted, boiled, fried, and baked and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
This versatility makes them popular with chefs and home cooks alike and ensures there is always a demand for yams and sweet potatoes in the food industry.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are the Different Varieties of Sweet Potatoes?
There are many different varieties of sweet potatoes, including orange, white, and purple.
The orange sweet potato is the most common variety found in grocery stores and is often referred to as a “yam” in the United States.
However, true yams are a completely different vegetable and are not commonly found in American grocery stores.
What Are Some Recipes That Use Yams?
Yams are a versatile vegetable that can be used in many different recipes.
They are often used in soups, stews, and curries and can also be roasted, mashed, or fried.
Some popular yam recipes include yam fries, yam and black bean chili, and yam and coconut milk soup.
What Are the Health Benefits of Yams?
Yams are nutritious vegetables that are rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and manganese and also contain antioxidants that can help protect against disease.
Can You Use Yams in Place of Sweet Potatoes?
Depending on your needs. It can be difficult for sweet potatoes to be substituted, especially in baking and cooking.
The two root crops have different textures and tastes; hence, it may affect your dish. Also, a yam is starchy and dry but a sweet potato is the opposite – moist and very versatile in flavor.
Are Canned Yams and Sweet Potatoes the Same?
Most of the canned yams found in the supermarkets are actually sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, those sweet, orange-colored, starchy veggies that you love are skinned sweet potatoes labeled as yam. Moreover, know that there are varieties of sweet potatoes; hence, many of you might confuse one for yams.
What Is the Difference Between ‘roots’ and ‘tubers’ – Starchy Tubers
The roots are compact, fleshy parts of a plant that are planted underground and contain more starch. Roots are also grown to bring nutrients and moisture from the soil, while tubers are also roots that are larger in size, serve as storage vessels, and as a means to develop new plants. Plants grow tubers on their roots and stems.
Sweet potatoes are considered to be root vegetables. However, it is generally classified as a tuberous root, while yams are tuber (thick tubers) that have barklike skin.
Do Sweet Potatoes Make You Gain Weight?
They can if you eat too many of them
Why Do Bodybuilders Eat Sweet Potatoes?
As a relatively starchy, sugar vegetable – they eat them when they want to bulk up.
How Do You Tell if A Yam Is Bad?
Check the surface for any spoilage marks or spots – do not buy yams if they have cracks in the skin or have been dropped.