Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What’s the Difference? (2024)

“Sweet potato” and “yam” are often used interchangeably, but these are different vegetables. Sweet potatoes tend to be easier to find and are a bit more nutritious. Yams are starchier but still tasty and nourishing.

Yams and sweet potatoes belong to different plant families and are only distantly related.

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

What Are Sweet Potatoes?

Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What’s the Difference? (1)Share on Pinterest

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

They are thought to 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 regular potato, the tuberous roots of the sweet potato plant are eaten as a vegetable. Their leaves and shoots are also sometimes eaten as greens.

However, sweet potatoes are a very distinctive-looking tuber.

They are long and tapered with a smooth skin that can vary in color, ranging from yellow, orange, red, brown or purple to beige. Depending on the type, the flesh can range from white to orange to even purple.

There are two main types of sweet potatoes:

Dark-Skinned, Orange-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes

Compared to golden-skinned sweet potatoes, these are softer and sweeter with a darker, copper-brown skin and bright orange flesh. They tend to be fluffy and moist and are commonly found in the US.

Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What’s the Difference? (2)Share on Pinterest

Golden-Skinned, Pale-Fleshed Sweet Potatoes

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.

Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What’s the Difference? (3)Share on Pinterest

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

They are an extremely robust vegetable. Their long shelf life allows them to be sold year-round. If stored correctly in a cool, dry place, they can keep for up to 2–3 months.

You can buy them in a wide range of different forms, most often whole or sometimes pre-peeled, cooked and sold in cans or frozen.

Sweet potatoes are a starchy root vegetable originating in Central or South America.
There are two main varieties. They have a long shelf life and are usually
sweeter and moister than regular potatoes.

What Are Yams?

Yams are also a tuber vegetable.

Their scientific name is Dioscorea, and they originate in Africa and Asia. They are now commonly found in the Caribbean and Latin America as well. Over 600 varieties of yams are known, and 95% of these are still grown in Africa.

Compared to sweet potatoes, yams can grow very large. Size can vary from that of a small potato to up to 5 feet (1.5 meters). Not to mention, they can weigh up to an impressive 132 pounds (60 kgs) (2).

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

They are cylindrical in shape with brown, rough, bark-like skin that is difficult to peel, but it softens after heating. The flesh color varies from white or yellow to purple or pink in mature yams.

Share on Pinterest

Yams have a unique taste, too. Compared to 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 US, true yams can be tough to find. They are imported and rarely found in local grocery stores. Your best chances of finding them are in international or ethnic food stores.

True yams are an edible tuber originating in Africa and Asia. There are over
600 varieties, which vary widely in size. They are starchier and drier than
sweet potatoes and 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 often mislabeled in supermarkets.

Yet, they are completely different vegetables.

A few reasons can explain how this mix-up happened.

Enslaved Africans brought to the US called the local sweet potato “nyami,” which translates to “yam” in English. This is because it reminded them of true yams, a food staple they knew in Africa.

In addition, the darker-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potato variety was only introduced to the US several decades ago. In order to set it apart from paler-skinned sweet potatoes, producers labeled them “yams.”

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

Most vegetables labeled as a “yam” in US supermarkets are actually just a variety of sweet potato.

Confusion between sweet potatoes and yams arose when US 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.

The sweet potato is more commonly found in US supermarkets, so as you’d expect, it is used in a wider range 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 puréed and used in soups and desserts.

As a staple on the Thanksgiving table, it’s most often served as a sweet potato casserole with marshmallows or sugar or made into 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 those in Africa.

Their long shelf life allows them to be a steady food source during times of poor harvest (3).

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

Yams can be bought in a number of forms, including whole, powder or flour and as a supplement.

Yam flour is available in the West from grocers specializing in African products. It can be used to make a dough that is served as a side with stews or casseroles. It can also be used similarly to instant mashed potatoes.

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

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

Their Nutrient Content Varies

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

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

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of baked sweet potato with the skin on contains (4):

  • Calories: 90
  • Carbohydrates: 20.7 grams
  • Dietary
  • Fat: 0.2 grams
  • Protein: 2 grams
  • Vitamin
    : 384%
  • Vitamin
    33% DV
  • Vitamin
    B1 (Thiamine)
    : 7% DV
  • Vitamin
    B2 (Riboflavin
    ): 6%
  • Vitamin
    B3 (Niacin):
    7% DV
  • Vitamin
    B5 (Pantothenic acid):
    9% DV
  • Vitamin
    B6 (Pyridoxine):
    14% DV
  • Iron: 4% DV
  • Magnesium: 7% DV
  • Phosphorus: 5% DV
  • Potassium: 14% DV
  • Copper: 8% DV
  • Manganese: 25% DV

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

  • Calories: 116
  • Carbohydrates: 27.5 grams
  • Dietary
  • Fat: 0.1 grams
  • Protein: 1.5 grams
  • Vitamin
    2% DV
  • Vitamin
    : 20%
  • 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
  • Phosphorus: 5% DV
  • Potassium: 19% DV
  • Copper: 8% DV
  • Manganese: 19% DV

Sweet potatoes tend to have slightly fewer calories per serving than yams. They also contain a bit more vitamin C and more than triple the amount of beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body.

In fact, one 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of sweet potato will supply you with almost all of your daily recommended amount of vitamin A, which is important for normal vision and the immune system (4).

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

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

GI is measured on a scale of 0–100. A food has a low GI if it causes blood sugars to rise slowly, whereas a high GI food causes blood sugars to rise quickly.

Cooking and preparation methods can cause a food’s GI to vary. For example, sweet potatoes have a medium-to-high GI, varying from 44–96, whereas yams have a low-to-high GI, ranging from 35–77 (6).

Boiling, rather than baking, frying or roasting, is linked to a lower GI (7).

Sweet potatoes are lower in calories and higher in beta-carotene and vitamin C
than yams. Yams have slightly more potassium and manganese. They both contain
decent amounts of B vitamins.

Their Potential Health Benefits Are Different

Sweet potatoes are a great source of highly available 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 (8).

Sweet potatoes are also rich in antioxidants, particularly carotenoids, which are thought to help protect against heart disease and decrease the risk of cancer (9, 10).

Certain types of sweet potatoes, especially purple varieties, are thought to be the highest in antioxidants — much higher than many other fruits and vegetables (11).

Also, 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 (12, 13, 14).

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

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

One study in 22 postmenopausal women found that a high intake of yams over 30 days improved hormone levels, reduced LDL cholesterol and increased antioxidant levels (15).

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

The high antioxidant content of sweet potatoes may protect against disease, as
well as improve blood sugar regulation and reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol. Yams
may help relieve symptoms of menopause.

Adverse Effects

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

For example, sweet potatoes have fairly high levels of oxalates. These are naturally occurring substances that are usually harmless. However, when they accumulate in the body, they can cause problems for people at risk of kidney stones (16).

Precautions must also be taken when preparing yams.

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

Naturally occurring plant proteins found in yams can be toxic and cause illness if consumed raw. Peeling and cooking yams thoroughly will remove any harmful substances (17).

Sweet potatoes contain oxalates that can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Yams must be cooked thoroughly to remove naturally occurring toxic substances.

The Bottom Line

Sweet potatoes and yams are completely different vegetables.

However, they’re both nutritious, tasty and versatile additions to the diet.

Sweet potatoes tend to be more readily available and are nutritionally superior to yams — albeit only slightly. If you prefer a sweeter, fluffier and moister texture, opt for sweet potatoes.

Yams have a starchier, drier texture but might be harder to find.

You really can’t go wrong with either.

Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What’s the Difference? (2024)


Sweet Potatoes vs Yams: What’s the Difference? ›

Yams and sweet potatoes differ in flavor and appearance, and they are not related. Sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family, while yams belong to the lily family. Yams aren't as sweet as sweet potatoes, and they are starchier and drier. Their texture and flavor are more similar to potatoes or yuca.

What is the main difference between sweet potatoes and yams? ›

A sweet potato is a root. Yams tend to be more cylindrical and have scaly, bark-like skin. Sweet potatoes tend to have a more tapered shape and may be firm or soft with thinner skin. Generally, sweet potatoes taste sweeter than yams.

What is the difference between yams and sweet potatoes Yahoo Answers? ›

"They are not related or even in the same plant family," Harvey said. "Sweet potatoes are considered storage roots and are grown from plant vine cuttings called slips. Yams are considered tubers and are grown from pieces of the tubers."

Which cooks faster yam or sweet potato? ›

Sweet potatoes cook more quickly than yams, are moister, and they taste distinctly sweet. When cool, they do not turn steadfastly glutinous and solid.

Which yam is the healthiest? ›

Purple yams are rich in antioxidants, including anthocyanins and vitamin C. Antioxidants help protect your cells from damage caused by harmful molecules called free radicals ( 6 ). Free radical damage is linked to many chronic conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders ( 7 ).

Which is healthier, yam or sweet potato? ›

Although both veggies are very close in fiber, protein, vitamin C, and magnesium, sweet potatoes are the healthier option because they are lower in overall calories, lower in carbohydrates, and higher in beta carotene (vitamin A).

Why are yams not called sweet potatoes? ›

True yams are part of an entirely different genus (Dioscorea; sweet potatoes belong to Ipomoea in the morning glory family) and are more akin to yuca in texture and flavor. Yams are commonly used in Caribbean and West African cooking and can grow as long and thick as an adult arm.

How do I know if I have a yam or a sweet potato? ›

Are Yams and Sweet Potatoes the Same? No, yams and sweet potatoes are not the same. Yams have rough, dark brown skin that is often compared to tree bark, and their flesh is dry and starchy like a regular potato. Sweet potatoes have smooth reddish skin, softer flesh (when cooked), and a sweet flavor.

Are all sweet potatoes yams? ›

Sweet potatoes refer to a vine species (Ipomoea batatas) in the morning glory family (Convolvulaceae). This species is likely what is on your Thanksgiving dinner table. In the United States and Canada, sweet potatoes are often (confusingly) referred to as “yams.” But sweet potatoes are not even closely related to yams.

Are yams harder than sweet potatoes? ›

The yam is harder than a sweet potato and takes a long time to cook to softness. The bark-like skin is tough with a dry, starchy non-sweet flesh more like yucca in texture and flavor.

Why is boiling not good for sweet potatoes? ›

Despite their sweet taste, these potatoes have an intermediate glycemic index (GI) level, meaning they are digested and absorbed fairly slowly, leading to a more gradual increase in blood sugar levels. But, a lot of these benefits, including nutrients and taste, can be lost by boiling sweet potatoes.

Is it healthier to bake or microwave a sweet potato? ›

It's really the best way. Microwaving sweet potatoes cuts down cook time by 45 to 55 minutes, and, according to a 2018 study, helps maintain the potato's nutritional value. All cooking methods cause foods to lose some of their nutrients, but the quicker your potato cooks, the more nutrients it will retain.

Is it better to boil or bake sweet potatoes? ›

The takeaway. If you want to eat sweet potatoes and maintain blood sugar balance, Sapola suggests boiling rather than roasting them. This method will take the glycemic index impact down a few points and maybe even challenge your cooking creativity.

Is it OK to eat yam everyday? ›

Yes, as long as you consume them in moderation. Excess consumption can cause stomach upset due to high fibre content. However, if you are trying to build muscle, eating yams helps. They are high in carbs and calories.

Can I eat sweet potatoes every day? ›

If you enjoy sweet potatoes, you can absolutely enjoy them daily. However, eating multiple sweet potatoes every day could cause a harmless condition called carotenodermia, where your skin turns yellow-orange. You may also want to be cautious about your sweet potato intake if you have a history of kidney stones.

What does yam do to the body? ›

Yams are not only an excellent source of fiber but also high in potassium and manganese, which are important for supporting bone health, growth, metabolism, and heart function ( 3 , 4 ). These tubers also provide decent amounts of other micronutrients, such as copper and vitamin C.

Why do grocery stores call sweet potatoes yams? ›

Since the “soft” sweet potatoes slightly resembled true yams, they picked up the name and became what you see labeled as “yams” in most U.S. grocery stores.

Do yams and sweet potatoes grow the same way? ›

Yams belong to a different family, called Dioscoreaceae. The edible parts of sweet potatoes are called roots, and yams are classified as tubers. Sweet potato plants are more prolific, producing 4-10 roots per plant. Yams produce just 1-5 tubers per plant.

Are yams and sweet potatoes are used interchangeably? ›

In the United States, the terms "yam" and "sweet potato" are used interchangeably, but they are completely different vegetables. Yams are starchy and have a rough, brown exterior. They can grow up to 45 feet long and are eaten in parts of Latin America, West Africa, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Do sweet potatoes have more sugar than yams? ›

Despite the name, both sweet potatoes and yams have amounts of sugar that are tolerable for people with diabetes. One cup of sweet potato has 6 grams of sugar, and 1 cup of yams has 0.5 grams of sugar, per the USDA.

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Errol Quitzon

Last Updated:

Views: 6163

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (59 voted)

Reviews: 82% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Errol Quitzon

Birthday: 1993-04-02

Address: 70604 Haley Lane, Port Weldonside, TN 99233-0942

Phone: +9665282866296

Job: Product Retail Agent

Hobby: Computer programming, Horseback riding, Hooping, Dance, Ice skating, Backpacking, Rafting

Introduction: My name is Errol Quitzon, I am a fair, cute, fancy, clean, attractive, sparkling, kind person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.