Difference Between a Yam and a Sweet Potato

Are yams the same as sweet potatoes? In this article, we will show you the differences between these two root crops.

If you have observed, whether in the supermarkets, in cooking, and in casual conversations, sweet potatoes and yam are usually interchanged for a weird reason. But would you be surprised if we told you that these two vegetables are completely different? And would you believe it if we told you that there is a possibility that you thought you were eating a yam but it’s actually a potato?

Even in their looks, they are also distinct. But they do share a similarity – they are both a root crop. Meaning, they similarly grow under the ground and are harvested through cultivating the soil

How To Store Cut Sweet Potatoes

Why do they call sweet potatoes yams?

Here’s a brief explanation of why the two vegetables are always interchanged.

According to many theories, during the time when African emigrated to the United States, they called sweet potatoes nyami, njam, or djambi which means “to eat” which produced the English word “yam”. This is because sweet potatoes look the same as yam, which is a common vegetable used in Caribbean cooking or the Africans. As it becomes popular, yams were introduced to the United States through African trading and called sweet potatoes for some reason. Ipomoea batatas is another term used.

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. No wonder why it is common in the said country to find sweet potatoes labeled as “yam” in the supermarkets.

So, what is actually a sweet potato? And what is actually a yam? Let’s find out below!

Yams vs Sweet Potatoes

What is the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

Seriously though, what the heck is a yam, and is it the same as a sweet potato?

The U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) demands that the term “yam” should be accompanied by the term ‘sweet potato” To give you a quick guide regarding the differences between the two vegetables, here’s a list for you to read:

Sweet Potato

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  • Has a versatile flavor
  • Sweet


  • Light-yellow
  • Or purple skin and flesh
  • Or pale skin with white flesh
  • Or rose skin with orange flesh
  • Sharper edges
  • Moist when cooked


Packed with

  • Potassium
  • Fiber
  • vitamin A


  • Pacific regions



  • Starchier or potato-like
  • Sweeter


  • Light-yellow
  • Dark-skinned or off-white on the outside
  • White, pink, yellow, or purple on the inside
  • Bigger in sizes
  • Moister when cooked


Packed with

  • Magnesium
  • Fiber
  • vitamin C


  • African countries
Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet Potato Fries

What’s a sweet potato?

Sweetpotato belongs to the Ipomea family and is a common vegetable that is classified as a root vegetable. It comes in a variety of colors such as white, purple, and oranges. It also comes in different sizes. This root crop is known to be very high in fiber, which is helpful in easing digestive problems.

Moreover, sweet potato is a popular vegetable in pacific regions such as the Philippines, Uganda, India, as well as in Central and South America. It grows in a hot, moist area usually sold as pre-peeled, cooked, frozen, or in cans.

The darker-skinned and paler-skinned are the two types of sweet potato. The darker-skinned variety is commonly mistaken as a yam. It has a thicker, dark orange look – why they are sometimes referred to as an orange sweet potato and have a moist texture if cooked properly. The purple sweet potato also belongs to this variety as well as the Velvet, Goldrush, Georgia Red, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, morning glory family and Centennial – the regular potato.

On the other hand, the paler-skinned has the same shape as the latter – elongated yellow or orange tubers that have pointed edges. This type of sweet potato has thin, light yellow skin, and pale yellow flesh. Its texture is similar to a white baking potato, which is crumby, dry, and not so sweet in taste.

They are usually served in many different kinds because it is versatile in flavor. It can be served as cupcakes, cakes, loaves of bread, pies, and dessert. They can also be cooked in different ways such as toasted, fried, or grilled to add a saltier flavor to these sweet crops.

While it is served as savory and sweet dishes, it is commonly baked, mashed, or fried. If you look into the Thanksgiving table, you would observe that sweet potatoes have become a staple, usually served as sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or even a sweet potato pie.

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’s a yam?

The true yam is indigenous to Asian and African countries since it grows in tropical climates like the sweet potato. This vegetable belongs to Dioscorea batatas and currently has more or less a hundred varieties across the world. It is popular in Latin American and Caribbean markets, which has a rough, dark-skinned, off-white flesh that also comes in red colors as well. It is commonly called batata, boniato, and ├▒ame in Spanish. Chances are low in finding a real yam at supermarkets in the United States. You may also find candied yam,

It is a staple for African and is usually cooked in several ways like boiled, fried, or roasted. In comparison to sweet potatoes, yam tastes drier, starchy, and can be eaten raw. It is sweeter than sweet potatoes and can grow bigger as much as seven feet in length and 150 pounds in weight, making it more difficult to harvest, especially during ties of poor farming.

Its shelf life runs around 6 months and is perfectly used as desserts, especially in countries like the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, and Indonesia. One of the famous varieties of yam is the purple yam that is high in potassium and fiber. Yams are not very popular in some parts of the United States, especially in leading supermarkets. If you want to get one, you would have to go to African, Asian, or Caribbean stores.

Loaded Yam
Loaded Yam

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.

Which is healthier – sweet potato or yam?

As you have seen in comparison of the nutritional facts of the yams vs sweet pototates, sweet potatoes are healthier because it has less carbohydrates and calories. It also contains a triple amount of vitamin C and vitamin A, which is essential to the body. Though yams are also healthy, however, sweet potatoes have higher concentrations of most vitamins and minerals.

Can you use yams in place of sweet potatoes?

Depending on your needs. Mostly, it can be difficult for sweet potatoes to be substituted, especially in baking and cooking. The two root crops have different textures and taste hence, it may affect your dish. Also, a yam is starchy and dry but 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 to many of them

Why do bodybuilders eat sweet potatoes?

As a relatively high 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.

Can diabetics eat yams?

Yes. Yams are rich in fiber hence, it is appropriate for weight loss and does not create any sharp increase in insulin response. As you can see above, yams have even lesser sugar content than sweet potatoes. A 100 grams of yam only contain 0.5 grams of sugar according to the USDA.


We hope that this article – the differences between sweet potatoes and yam – has added knowledge to you. We look forward to your next grocery shopping believing that you will finally identity the yam from sweet potato. Make sure to not forget the written differences above, especially their appearances.