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Pop Quiz: Sweetpotato or Yam?

Difference between Yams and Sweetpotatoes

What’s in a name? When it comes to the yam, there is a bit of confusion. The truth is what you’ve been calling a yam is most likely a sweetpotato. Even more, it’s possible that you’ve never even tasted a yam!

That sweet, orange-colored root vegetable that you love so dearly is actually a sweetpotato. Yes, all so-called “yams” are in fact sweetpotatoes. Most people think that long, red-skinned sweetpotatoes are yams, but they really are just one of many varieties of sweetpotatoes. So where did all of the confusion come from? Let’s break down the main differences between yams and sweetpotatoes!

Yam vs. Sweetpotato: A true yam is a starchy edible root of the Dioscorea genus, and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene. It differs greatly from the sweetpotato in taste, texture, appearance and family.

Depending on the variety, sweetpotato flesh can vary from white to orange and even purple. The orange-fleshed variety was introduced to the United States several decades ago. In order to distinguish it from the white variety everyone was accustomed to, producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” and labeled them “yams.”

Even though the USDA requires that orange-colored sweetpotatoes always be labeled “sweetpotato,” most people still think of sweetpotatoes as yams regardless of their true identity. Think you know the differences between yams and sweetpotatoes? Take our quiz and test your root knowledge!

Sweetpotato, Yam or Both?
  1. I am a tuberous root with sweet moist flesh.
  2. I am originally from Africa and seldom sold in U.S. markets.
  3. I am super sweet and can grow over seven feet in length!
  4. My skin can range from thin and pale to dark and thick.
  5. I am toxic when eaten raw, but perfectly safe when cooked.
  6. I have rough skin that is difficult to peel and can even be hairy at times, but it softens when baked.
  7. My flesh can sometimes be purple!
  8. I have an oblong body with tapered ends.
Answers
  1. Both. Sweetpotatoes and yams are considered tuberous roots, and both are sweet and delicious.
  2. Yam. Are you surprised? Yams grow in tropical climates, primarily in South America, Africa and the Caribbean.
  3. Yam. They have a higher sugar content than sweetpotatoes and can grow to be enormous!
  4. Sweetpotato. Paler skinned sweetpotatoes have white flesh which is not as sweet and moist as the darker-skinned, orange-fleshed sweetpotatoes.
  5. Yam. Unlike the sweetpotato, yams must be cooked to be safely eaten. Preparation is a time-consuming process involving several minutes of pounding and boiling to remove toxins.
  6. Yam. Sweetpotato skin is thinner and smoother.
  7. Both. Purple Okinawan sweetpotato is often confused with the purple yam called ube.
  8. Sweetpotato. It can be short and fat or long and thin, but it will always taper at the ends.