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The Age-Old Holiday Mystery

Table is set, decorations are hung, loved ones gather near and far. The holidays are a joyous time to pile your plates high with zero judgement and guilt. (That’s what your holidays are all about, right?) With so much joy and deliciousness filling the dining room, we hate to draw attention to the age-old mystery that plagues Thanksgiving.

We’re looking at you – you beautiful, fluffy orange casserole. Candied yams have been a favorite on holiday tables for as long as we can remember. Though this holiday staple is deliciously…deceiving. Those candied yams are in fact candied sweetpotatoes. That’s right, y’all. Truth be told, it’s possible that you’ve never even tasted a yam!

Now, let’s get to the bottom of it. What exactly is the difference between a sweetpotato and a yam? It all starts with where they come from. In fact, these confused roots grow in entirely different parts of the world! A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from Africa and Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene.  Sweetpotatoes are grown in the United States, with North Carolina leading the way in U.S. production.

How did this confusion happen? Here’s a quick history lesson: The orange-fleshed variety was introduced to the United States several decades ago. In order to distinguish it from the white potato variety everyone was accustomed to, producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” and labeled them “yams.” Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweetpotato.’

In the end, we’re here to tell you it’s okay to call your popular Thanksgiving side dish Candied Yams, because we know its true identity, the beloved sweetpotato. Your guests, on the other hand, may demand some honesty at the dinner table!

For some fun dinner table trivia, take our Sweetpotato vs. Yam Quiz to test your family’s root knowledge. And remember to tag @Sweet_Taters in your holiday sweetpotato recipes for a chance to be featured on our social media pages!