Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What is the difference?

The terms "sweet potato" and "yam" are often used interchangeably, causing much confusion.

While both are vegetables from underground tubers, they are actually very different.

They belong to different families of plants and are only related in a distant way.

Then, why all the confusion? This article explains the key differences between sweet potatoes and yams.

What are sweet potatoes?

Hands holding sweet potato

Sweet potatoes, also known by the scientific name Ipomoea batatas, are root vegetables with starch.

It is believed that they originate in Central or South America, but North Carolina is currently the largest producer (1).

Surprisingly, sweet potatoes are only remotely related to potatoes.

Like a common potato, the tuberous roots of the sweet potato plant are eaten as a vegetable. Their leaves and buds are also sometimes eaten as green.

However, sweet potatoes are a very distinctive looking tuber.

They are long and sharp with a soft skin that can vary in color, from yellow, orange, red, brown or purple to beige. Depending on the type, the pulp can vary from white to orange or even purple.

There are two main types of sweet potatoes:

Sweet potatoes with dark and orange skin

Compared to golden-skinned sweet potatoes, these are softer and sweeter with darker, copper-brown skin and bright orange pulp. They tend to be spongy and moist and are commonly found in the United States.

Sweet potato sliced ‚Äč‚Äčorange

This version is firmer with a golden skin and light yellow flesh. It tends to have a drier texture and is less sweet than dark-skinned sweet potatoes.

White Sweet Potatoes

Regardless of the type, sweet potatoes are generally sweeter and more moist than regular potatoes.

They are an extremely robust vegetable. Their long useful life allows them to be sold throughout the year. If they are stored correctly in a cool and dry place, they can be stored for 2 to 3 months.

You can buy them in a wide range of different ways, most of the times whole or, sometimes, peeled previously, cooked and sold in cans or frozen.

Summary: Sweet potatoes are a starchy root vegetable native to Central or South America. There are two main varieties. They have a long shelf life and tend to be sweeter and more humid than regular potatoes.

What are yams?

Yams are also a tuber vegetable.

Its scientific name is Dioscorea, and originate in Africa and Asia. Now they are also commonly found in the Caribbean and Latin America. More than 600 varieties of yams are known, and 95% of them are still grown in Africa.

In comparison with sweet potatoes, yams can grow a lot. The size can vary from a small potato up to 1.5 m (5 feet). Not to mention that they can weigh up to 132 pounds (60 kg) (2).

Yams have some distinct characteristics that help distinguish them from sweet potatoes, mainly because of their size and skin.

They are cylindrical with a brown, rough, bark-like skin that is hard to peel, but softens after heating. The color of the meat varies from white or yellow to purple or pink in the ripe yams.


Yams also have a unique flavor. In comparison with sweet potatoes, yams are less sweet and much more starchy and dry.

They also tend to have a good shelf life. However, certain varieties store better than others.

In the United States, true yams can be hard to find. They are imported and are rarely found in local grocery stores. Your best chances of finding them are in international or ethnic food stores.

Summary: The true yams are an edible tuber native to Africa and Asia. There are more than 600 varieties, which vary widely in size. They are more starchy and drier than sweet potatoes and are rarely found in local grocery stores.

Why do people confuse them?

So much confusion surrounds the terms sweet potatoes and yams.

Both names are used interchangeably and are often mislabeled in supermarkets.

However, they are completely different vegetables.

Some reasons may explain how this confusion occurred.

African slaves who came to the United States called the local sweet potato "nyami", which is translated as "yam" in English. This is because it reminded them of the true yams, a staple food they knew in Africa.

In addition, the sweet potato variety of orange pulp and darker skin was only introduced in the United States several decades ago. To differentiate it from the more pale-skinned sweet potatoes, the producers labeled them as "yams".

The term "yam" is now more a marketing term for producers to distinguish between the two types of sweet potatoes.

Most of the vegetables labeled "yam" in supermarkets in the United States are really just one variety of sweet potato.

Summary: The confusion between sweet potatoes and yams arose when American producers began using the African term "nyami", which translates to "yam", to distinguish between different varieties of sweet potatoes.

They are prepared and eaten differently

Both sweet potatoes and yams are very versatile. They can be prepared by boiling, steaming, roasting or frying.

Sweet potato is more common in US supermarkets. UU., So, as expected, it is used in a wide variety of traditional western dishes, both sweet and savory.

It is most often baked, mashed or roasted. It is commonly used to make sweet potato fries, an alternative to baked or mashed potatoes. It can also be pureed and used in soups and desserts.

As a staple on the Thanksgiving table, it is most often served as a sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or sugar or in a sweet potato pie.

On the other hand, true yams are rarely found in Western supermarkets. However, they are a staple food in other countries, particularly in Africa.

Their long useful life allows them to be a constant source of food in times of bad harvest (3).

In Africa, most of the time they are boiled, roasted or fried. Purple yams are most commonly found in Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines and are often used in desserts.

Yams can be purchased in a variety of ways, including whole, powder or flour and as a supplement.

Yam flour is available in the West in stores specializing in African products. It can be used to make a dough that is served on the side with stews or stews. It can also be used similar to instant mashed potatoes.

Wild yam powder can be found in some health food stores and supplements under various names. These include wild wild yam, colic root or Chinese yam.

Summary: Both the sweet potatoes and the yams are boiled, roasted or fried. Sweet potatoes are used to make French fries, pies, soups and stews. Yams are most commonly found in the West as a powder or health supplement.

Its nutrient content varies

A raw sweet potato contains water (77%), carbohydrates (20.1%), proteins (1.6%), fiber (3%) and almost no fat (4).

In comparison, a raw yam contains water (70%), carbohydrates (24%), proteins (1.5%), fiber (4%) and almost no fat (5).

A 3.5-ounce serving of sweet potato with the skin contains (4):

  • Calories: 90

  • Carbohydrates: 20.7 grams

  • Dietary fiber: 3.3 grams

  • Grease: 0.2 grams

  • Protein: 2 grams

  • Vitamin A: 384% DV

  • Vitamin C: 33% DV

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): 7% DV

  • Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 6% DV

  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 7% DV

  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 9% DV

  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): 14% DV

  • Iron: 4% DV

  • Magnesium: 7% DV

  • Match: 5% DV

  • Potassium: 14% DV

  • Copper: 8% DV

  • Manganese: 25% DV

A 3.5-ounce serving (100 grams) of boiled or baked yam contains (5):

  • Calories: 116

  • Carbohydrates: 27.5 grams

  • Dietary fiber: 3.9 grams

  • Grease: 0.1 grams

  • Protein: 1.5 grams

  • Vitamin A: 2% DV

  • Vitamin C: 20% DV

  • Vitamin B1 (Thiamine): 6% DV

  • Vitamin B2 (riboflavin): 2% DV

  • Vitamin B3 (niacin): 3% DV

  • Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid): 3% DV

  • Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine): 11% DV

  • Iron: 3% DV

  • Magnesium: 5% DV

  • Match: 5% DV

  • Potassium: 19% DV

  • Copper: 8% DV

  • Manganese: 19% DV

Sweet potatoes tend to have a little less calories per serving than yams. They also contain a little more vitamin C and more than triple the amount of beta-carotene, which is converted into vitamin A in the body.

In fact, a sweet potato portion of 3.5 ounces (100 grams) will supply almost the entire recommended daily amount of vitamin A, which is important for normal vision and the immune system (4).

On the other hand, raw yams are slightly richer in potassium and manganese. These nutrients are important for good bone health, good heart function, growth and metabolism (6, 7).

Both sweet potatoes and yams have decent amounts of other micronutrients, such as B vitamins, which are vital for many bodily functions, including energy production and the creation of DNA.

It is also important to consider the glycemic index (GI) of each one. The GI of a food gives you an idea of ​​how slowly or quickly it affects your blood sugar levels.

GI is measured on a scale of 0 to 100. A food has a low GI if it causes blood sugar levels to rise slowly, while a food with a high GI causes blood sugar levels to increase rapidly.

The cooking and preparation methods can cause the GI of a food to vary. For example, sweet potatoes have a medium-high GI, which varies from 44 to 96, while yams have a low to high GI, from 35 to 77 (8).

Boiling, instead of baking, frying or roasting, is linked to a lower GI (9).

Summary: Sweet potatoes are lower in calories and higher in beta carotene and vitamin C than yams. Yams have a little more potassium and manganese. Both contain decent amounts of B vitamins

Your potential health benefits are different

Sweet potatoes are a great source of high availability beta carotene, which has the ability to increase your vitamin A levels. This can be very important in developing countries where vitamin A deficiency is common (10).

Sweet potatoes are also rich in antioxidants, especially carotenoids, which are thought to help protect against heart disease and decrease the risk of cancer (11, 12).

It is believed that certain types of sweet potatoes, especially purple varieties, are the highest in antioxidants, much higher than many other fruits and vegetables (13).

In addition, some studies suggest that certain types of sweet potatoes can help improve blood sugar regulation and reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes (14, 15, 16).

Meanwhile, the health benefits of yams have not been widely studied.

There is limited evidence that yam extract may be a useful remedy for some of the unpleasant symptoms of menopause.

A study of 22 postmenopausal women found that a high 30-day yam intake improved hormone levels, reduced LDL cholesterol and increased antioxidant levels (17).

It is important to remember that this was a small study, and more evidence is needed to confirm these health benefits.

Summary: The high antioxidant content of sweet potatoes can protect against diseases, as well as improve the regulation of blood sugar and reduce "bad" LDL cholesterol. Yams can help relieve the symptoms of menopause.

Adverse effects

While sweet potatoes and yams are considered safe and healthy foods for most people, it may be prudent to follow certain precautions.

For example, sweet potatoes have fairly high levels of oxalates. These are natural substances that are normally harmless. However, when they accumulate in the body, they can cause problems for people at risk of kidney stones (18).

Precautions should also be taken when preparing yams.

While sweet potatoes can be safely eaten raw, certain types of yams are only safe when cooked.

The proteins of natural origin found in yams can be toxic and cause diseases if consumed raw. Peeling and cooking the yams thoroughly will eliminate any harmful substance (19).

Summary: Sweet potatoes contain oxalates that can increase the risk of kidney stones. Yams should be thoroughly cooked to eliminate natural toxic substances.

The bottom line

Sweet potatoes and yams are completely different vegetables.

However, they are nutritious, tasty and versatile additions to the diet.

Sweet potatoes tend to be more available and are nutritionally superior to yams, if only a little. If you prefer a sweeter, fluffy and moist texture, opt for the sweet potatoes.

Yams have a starchy and dry texture, but they can be harder to find.

You really can not go wrong with either of them.

Reference: https: //www.healthline.com/nutrition/sweet-potatoes-vs-yams


That was Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What is the difference?

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