There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding yams and sweet potatoes. Some people think they are the same thing. Some people swear they are different. And some people just grab whatever they see and don’t think about it. People in the US and Canada tend to use the terms yam and sweet potato interchangeably. Well the truth of the matter is that yams and sweet potatoes are indeed totally different my friend. I wasn’t sure how all this confusion started, so I did some digging and here’s the tea…
What’s the big difference?
The first major difference between a yam and a sweet potato is that they are two entirely different plants. A yam belongs to the palm and grasses family. A sweet potato belongs to the morning glory or bindweed family.
The second major difference is that they come from different places. A large portion of the sweet potato crop is grown right here in the USA with North Carolina being the leader in production. Yams are mostly produced in the Caribbean, Central America, and Africa where they originated. It’s rare to find a true yam in the States unless you go to a specialty store.
The third big difference is the appearance. Sweet potatoes are usually bright orange when sliced. Yams have more of a white flesh. There are also purple varieties of yams. Also, sweet potatoes tend to be much smaller than yams.
Fourth difference is that the taste is much different. Sweet potatoes are, as their name indicates, sweet and moist and have a reddish or coppery colored skin. Yams have dry starchy taste and have a bark-like brown skin.
Where Did The Confusion Start?
Well according to my research, the confusion began back in colonial times when colonist got confused because of the similarities of the nyami (now called yams) that were brought over with the Africans and the sweet potatoes that were being grown here. To top it all off, the FDA does its part to add to the confusing situation by not requiring a true distinction between the two on food labels.
Fun Fact: The word “yam” comes from the African word “nyami” which means “to eat”.
So there you have it folks. Mystery solved. Chances are if you were born in the the US, you’ve probably never had a real yam. Surprising right?
Click on the picture below to check out my recipe for Candied Sweet Potatoes!