Here’s The Difference Between Sweet Potatoes And Yams

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If you don’t eat them on a regular basis, now is the time of the year when those colorful Thanksgiving staples—sweet potatoes and yams—show up on the dinner table. Can you tell the difference between the two? Did you even know there was a difference? (Those are sweet potatoes above.) Well if you’ve ever been curious, or if you need an amusing way to change the subject at Thanksgiving dinner when politics comes up, we’ve got all the answers you need. Read carefully—there will a test at the end of this post.

Sweet Potatoes

First things first: They’re not potatoes. According to Cooking Light, “Sweet potatoes are more moist and sweet than a yam, and can come in a variety of colors with red or light skin and orange or white flesh.” They’re also low in calories and have no fat. That is, until you load them with butter or turn them into sweet potato pie.

Flickr | Gloria Cabada-Leman


To start, yams are harder to come by, since they are grown in Africa and the Caribbean and then brought into the U.S. Cooking Light says they aren’t related to potatoes, but are related to… lilies and grasses. What? Some can be as long as four feet! They can also be white or purple, and are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.

Flickr | Alan Levine

Where’d the name confusion come in? “Americans have been calling the orange-fleshed variety of sweet potatoes ‘yams’ since colonial times when Africans saw familiarities in them to the tuberous variety,” says Huffington Post. “The USDA decided to label them as ‘yams’ to differentiate the two varieties.” So if it’s sweet and orange, that’s a yam, folks.

Now that you understand the basic differences, who’s up for an old-fashioned sweet potato pie, like I had growing up in Kentucky? Have mercy, Chef Charlie Andrews shows us how it’s done.

We can’t leave yam fans high and dry. If you’ve never tried them candied, you need to get in on this.

And if you want to spend all season whipping up sweet potato- and yam-based dishes, check out the Easy Sweet Potato and Yam Cookbook: 50 Delicious Sweet Potato and Yam Recipes for the Cool Autumn Months. You’d be smart to keep a steady stream of these super foods coming. They’re bursting with health benefits: Sweet potatoes are packed with vitamin A and potassium, while yams help fight aging, cancer and even weight gain—helpful to offset all of that butter and brown sugar you put on them.

So there you go—think you understand the difference now? We said there was a quiz at the end, and we weren’t kidding.