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What Is The Difference Between A Sweetpotato And A Yam?

yam vs sweet potato main
What’s in a name? When it comes to the yam, 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.

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.”

Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term ‘yam’ to be accompanied by the term ‘sweetpotato.’ Despite the label regulations, 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!




Sweetpotatoes are almost always sweeter than yams.  They have versatile flavor easily altered by cooking methods.

Starchier and more potato-like, usually not very sweet. Versatile; flavor easily altered by cooking methods.


In the U.S. the majority of Sweetpotatoes sold are one of four appearances;

  1.  Rose color skin with orange flesh
  2. Pale copper/tan skin with white flesh
  3. Red skin, dry white flesh
  4. Purple skin and flesh

All are more slender in appearance than a potato and have tapered ends; however each of these does have a different flavor profile.

Varies considerably. Some yams are the size and shape of small potatoes; others can grow up to 1.5m (5ft) in length and weigh over 100lbs (70kg). Skins may be dark brown or light pink; insides white, yellow, purple, or pink.


Very nutritious. Has more sugar, protein, calcium, iron, sodium, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and water than yams do.

Very nutritious. Has more fat, carbs, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin E than sweetpotatoes do.


In the U.S., over 50% of the country’s sweetpotatoes are grown in North Carolina.

Today, yams are grown around the world, but West Africa is still where most yam crops — nearly 95% — are grown.