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Yam Or Sweet Potato – How Do You Know Which Is Which?

Yam Or Sweet Potato – How Do You Know Which Is Which?

It’s been said that yams have an identity crisis because more often than not, the “yams” you find in the grocery store are really mislabeled sweet potatoes. So this Thanksgiving, before you say “please pass the yams,” consider this: sweet potatoes and yams are confused all the time, and here in the U.S. the names seem to be used interchangeably, despite the fact that they are two very different items.

To further complicate matters, neither of them are really potatoes—both are tubers, although not even related to each other. In fact, the sweet potato is a cousin of the morning glory flower. There are about 200 varieties of true yams, none of which grow in the U.S.

Yam Or Sweet Potato – How Do You Know Which Is Which?

In spite of all of the confusion, it’s quite easy to tell yams from sweet potatoes:

  • Yams have dark, bark-like skins with a white flesh. Some have purple or red flesh.  Yams are drier and starchier than sweet potatoes and are even made into flour.
  • Sweet potatoes have gold or copper/bronze skins and moister orange flesh.

Yams are high in fiber, potassium, and vitamin C.  Pound for pound, a sweet potato has fewer calories, fat, carbs, potassium, Vitamin C, and fiber than a true yam. Sweet potatoes have more sugar and calcium, and more Vitamin A than a yam (that bright orange color wins out nutritionally).

If you want to try cooking some real yams, look to African or Caribbean recipes, and if you want to be sure you’re getting authentic yams, go to a grocery store that specializes in foods from those regions.

Sweet Potato Casserole

Forget the days of sweet potatoes heaped in a dish and topped with mini marshmallows. This is a sophisticated way to enjoy sweet potatoes that all your Thanksgiving dinner guests will enjoy.


3 cups sweet potatoes, baked, scooped out into a bowl and cooled
1/4 cup white sugar (can be omitted)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup real butter, melted
1/2 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tsp salt


1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup flour
1 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup butter or margarine, melted


In a large mixing bowl, combine sweet potatoes, eggs, milk, sugar (if using), vanilla, salt, and melted butter. Mix well with a fork. You can use an electric beater if you’d like. Pour into a baking dish. In a separate bowl, mix topping ingredients together and top sweet potatoes. Bake for 40 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Boiled Yams

White yams (as many as you’d like)
Water for boiling
Dash of salt


First, slice the yam tuber into thick slices. Then remove the peels. Place the slices in a colander and rinse with water. Place in pot with salt and boil for about 25 minutes or until tender. Drain and serve with your favorite stew or soup as a side dish.

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  • pedro Reyes-morales says:

    Am only 80 and had eating the Africa yam all my life, i like it benefits lol

  • Chris says:

    The information in this article is incorrect. The common yam varieties found in stores in America (garnet, jewel, bouregard) typically have orange flesh and skin, while sweet potatoes (new jersey, as a common example) has tan skin and tan/white flesh. Here are some articles which have the correct information:


    There seems to be some misinformation out there as to what is truly a yam vs. what is truly a sweet potato. A quick google search of the common yam varieties will clear this up instantly. Please stop spreading misinformation about these poor tubers. Thanks.

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Sorry, Chris. We think even you’ve confused yourself. Most of the links you provided are in agreement with us. Frugal Living says in her blog post that you linked to: “Yams – Most of us have probably never even eaten a real yam. I know I haven’t. While you could hunt one down in the US, they are more common in African or Caribbean markets and diets. There are dozens of different yam varieties, some growing up to 8 feet long and weighing over 200 pounds! They have a rough, bark-like skin and rounded ends; the flesh is more dry, bland, and starchy and less sweet than sweet potatoes.”
      In the other blog you linked to, Mark’s Daily Apple, he says, “Garnet, Jewel, Beauregard: these are the orange fleshed, reddish-brownish-orangish skinned sweet potatoes masquerading as yams. They’re even more common than the standard sweet potato, sweeter, and contain a bit more water (you can hear it escape when you bake them).”
      Which is basically what our story says. There are hundreds of bloggers out there that tackle this subject but remember who’s been around longer!

  • E says:

    The one shown in the picture is an African or white yam (not a yuca potato as someone else said) — that is a real yam and cannot be eaten raw because it is toxic. American ‘yams’ are actually just another variety of sweet potato.

  • iLoveMyGoats says:

    Well, since everyone is confused now anyway, here’s an article about different root vegetables that will either confuse you more, or help clear up a few things. Also, know there are many different types of yams around the world that come in an assortment of skin colors and skin textures, and like potatoes and sweet potatoes, the color of the flesh can range from white, pale yellow, orange to purple. https://hilahcooking.com/sweet-potatoes-vs-yams-vs-taro-vs-yuca/

  • Asia says:

    In Asia we have several of varieties of yams and sweet potatoes, and we grow up eating a lot of both. The flesh of sweet potatoes are most commonly bright orange, but there are some pale yellow and some dark purple ones. Sweet potatoes are always sweet. Yams in the other hand, is a lot starchier and never sweet. The flesh of the yam is white-ish specked with purple, and the skin is very dark and very coarse, the starch makes it a little slimey when handling raw and your hands get itchy from it. In Asia we also have tapioca which is even more similar in looks to the sweet potato, and this has yellow flesh and although starchy is never sweet.

  • Snowbird says:

    I grew up in Georgia and my Mom told me to always choose Puerto Rican yams because they were better than ordinary sweet potatoes. She also said that a long, narrow yam was sweeter and darker, reddish orange than the fat ones. I followed her instructions and rarely missed! I am frustrated because the stores here in Florida and Pennsylvania have never heard this and label all as sweet potatoes. Perhaps it’s the soil in Puerto Rico just as the soil in Vadalia, Ga. makes their onions sweet! An interesting article, nevertheless, but I will continue to use my method in selecting “yams” for I know it works at 85 years young!

  • Cindy says:

    A few years ago we ate a purple potato at the Luau. It was so good. I never knew what kind it was, maybe it was a yam! I will have to do a little more investigating.

  • carrolldee choate says:

    as Vivian so stated I am now so confused I really have no idea what I have been eating all my life yam or sweets, and for the record I am 80 but I dearly love them mostly baked until they are oozing from their skins – they need no sugar-cream-cinnamon maybe a pat of real butter

  • Dianne Marks says:

    I sure wish the correct information was out there, because I have to be on a special diet (FODMAP) where I can eat yams but not sweet potatoes..

  • Phyllis Pippin says:

    A true sweet potato is orange inside and is sweeter. I could eat one everyday. And sweet potato pie is better then pumpkin pie, which is another story. They say the “pumpkin” in the can IS NOT pumpkin but out of the squash family. Which is another story…lol

  • Theresa says:

    This recipe sounds great and worth a try… how many sweet potatoes makes 3 cups??? I look forward to making this for my Thanksgiving dinner.

  • LKRoss says:

    African yams (the one pictured) are toxic when eaten raw so whoever says they love eating them raw – are probably not eating yams thank goodness lol But true yams are not readily available in mainstream supermarkets across the US, and many markets intentionally mislabel light colored sweet potatoes so that people will THINK they are buying yams for their thanksgiving recipes lol.

  • Rick says:

    Went to th grocery store, they had both sweet potatoes and yams, as I prefer sweet potatoes, that is what I grabbed. At checkout the clerk rang them up as yams, normally this would not bother me as I knew which I had grabbed, the problem was the yams were ten cents per pound higher in cost. I told the clerk that she had misidentified the “yams”. She piously informed me that sweet potatoes and yams are exactly the same thing. I told her apparently the produce department did not agree as they were in two different areas of the section and priced differently.

    I was informed that neither I nor the produce manager knew what we were talking about. I told her that if in fact they were the same that she should charge the lower price. I was told that the yams were already rung up, and she was not going to void the item and ring it up again. Told he fine! Void the entire sale, I will go elsewhere. I have never shopped at that store again.

    You obviously can’t fix stupid!

  • Sue says:

    Oh this has always drove me nuts..
    I have had both..and prefer the yams..the lighter colored of the 2…
    Even grocery store employees have no clue…

  • Research says:

    Here–read more about the difference at the Library of Congress (also explains how some sweet potatoes started being called yams in the U.S.):
    Feel free to check out their related websites and further reading sources at the bottom of the article as well.

  • Debra WORTHEY says:

    If you want to know about real sweet potatoes google vardaman Mississippi. Sweet potato capital. Only the best sweet taters are grown there.yes I live close by so I do know the difference.i try to buy vardaman’s because they are they best.

  • vivian mcdorman says:

    after reading all the comments, now i am really confused and i am only 70

  • Miranda says:

    First off, this article IS FULLY CORRECT!!! The picture on the left is NOT a true yam, but a yuca which is in the tuber family. A sweet potato is Not a tuber, yam any other name. Its only a sweet potato, a member if the morning glory family.there ARE YELLOW sweet potato s, but theyre still sweet potato! !!!! You will 99% of the time, unless in large city produce buying, NEVER SEE A TRUE YAM! they’re all sweet potato, its a USA thing to call it a yam.trust me, after 17years of being a chef I’ve seen, and eaten a yam twice, its not a sweet potato! Lol

  • Actually Informed says:

    This is hilarious, this entire article tries so hard to be informative but ultimately only serves to further misinform people. Even the diagram visually showing a “sweet potato” and a “yam” is incorrect, in fact you don’t even have a sweet potato in the picture at all!

    The potato on the left is a yuca potato, as you can clearly tell by the darker, rough, skin. The one on the right is a Yam. Yam’s taste like starchy carrots when eaten raw, they also have a very distinct orange interior.

    Sweet potatoes have a very light tan exterior and have a whitish-yellow interior and taste distinctly sweeter than a yam, and not even a little bit like a carrot when eaten raw.

    Where these two vegetables got mixed up is a mystery to me. But I can tell you for a scientific fact that the nutritional composition of your orange “sweet potatoes” mysteriously matches the listed nutrition found in yams.

    After all, it’s my job to know these things. I work for the FDA.

  • kim Vargas says:

    I have NEVER seen the type on the left. I’ve lived in the US all my 51 years!

  • mike says:

    All of what we have in America are sweet potatoes, what we commonly think of as yams are just a variety of sweet potato. Calling them yams was just a marketing ploy. What this article is describing are true yams, which are indigenous to Africa and not readily available in the US.

  • Mona says:

    I think the article is wrong too. I have always been told the orange ones are yams, and the lighter colored sweet potatoes, the direct opposite of what this article claims.

  • pat mitchell says:

    I think farmers almanac is confused

  • pat mitchell says:

    I thought the yellow was sweet potatoes, dk orange are yams, im gonna b 70 and still think yams are orange, even the canned ones are orange, and i bought yams tonight and store bins had them side by side, orange marked yams

  • Mr Lou J Apa says:

    LOVE yams….I nucke them and eat them like an apple…OH BOY!!!!…yum yam…..

  • VAL says:

    Sorry but the one on the left is called a Yuca potato, look it up, and the one on the right is a YAM.

  • Rachel says:

    I’m even more confused. I was taught just the opposite for the flesh color. Just google sweet potato vs. yam. It’s weird that there is so much confusion around this…lol

  • Riana says:

    That is exactly how I was told when I grew up in South Africa.

  • Tim says:

    Sweet potatoes are actually a tuberous root and not a true tuber.

  • Joanne says:

    I was also told just the opposite of what you reported. My folks always grew their own sweet potatoes, and they ranged from the white to the orange. I was told the yams were what is generally available in the supermarket – and were much softer consistency. I’M SO CONFUSED! Just when I thought I had it straight.

  • charmbeckford says:

    Yam can also have yellow or purple flesh.

  • KansasDad says:

    Thank you for your great, short and informative article. You have settled one of the great Thanksgiving table arguments! LOL This year I will go to the dinner with a copy of your article as proof of what I say!!!!

  • Marcie says:

    I was always taught/told just the opposite of what you shared. I thought sweet potatoes consisted of whiter flesh and yams had the orange flesh. My local grocer advertises in this way as well.
    Thank you for the update! Looking forward to trying the recipe.
    Smiles 🙂

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