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The Difference between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

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If you’re tired of wondering whether you’re eating sweet potatoes or yams, then you’re not alone. The confusion between these two root vegetables has been around for years, but it’s important to know the difference between the two.

sweet potatoes on the left and yams on the right, with txt that says sweet potatoes vs. yams


Let’s start with the basics. These two vegetables are not the same thing, despite what you may have heard. They come from two different plant families and have distinct differences in taste, texture, and appearance.

The Difference between yams and sweet potatoes

There’s a lot of confusion out there about yams and sweet potatoes. People often use the terms interchangeably, but they’re actually two different vegetables.

Yams are tubers that grow in tropical climates and have a tough, dark-brown skin. They come in various shapes and sizes, from round to cylindrical. The flesh of yams can range from white to purple, yellow, or pink. They have a fibrous texture and they tend to be dryer than sweet potatoes.

On the other hand, sweet potatoes tend to be sweeter and moister than yams. They have thin, smooth skin and the flesh can range from white to yellowish-orange or even purple. Sweet potatoes are mostly found in temperate climates in North America and Europe.

Where are sweet potatoes and yams from?

In order to understand the difference between yams and sweet potatoes you must know where they come from. The sweet potato is believed to have been first grown somewhere in Central South America. And made its way through Mexico and then to the United States where now 50% of America’s sweet potatoes are grown in the state of North Carolina.

cut raw sweet potato on the left, cut raw white yam on the right

The starch content

The sweet potato is a sweet, starchy vegetable. Some sweet potatoes soften while they cook, and some stay hard. Sweet potatoes on the outside can be white, yellow, red, purple, and brown. And on the inside can be white, yellow, orange, and reddish. In fact, there are over 400 varieties of sweet potatoes with various tastes.

Yams are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes and have a more bitter taste to them.

cut sweet potato and cut yams in white bowls sittin side by side

Which cuisines use yams and sweet potatoes

Yams are used in Latin American, Caribbean, and African cuisines where The U.S. is known for more sweet potato usage.


Although yams and sweet potatoes can get confused with one another there are some meals that know the difference between the two.

sweet potatos with spoon sticking out

Sweet Potato Recipes

Sweet potatoes are etched so much in America that many are willing to switch out traditional fries with that sweet potato fries or wedges. The starchiness of them makes a perfect substitute for regular potatoes.

Ironically enough named, candied yams are made with sweet potatoes and are also known as a staple in American households. The sweetness of brown sugar and butter pairs very well with sweet potatoes. But many recipes for candies yams are actually made with sweet potatoes.

There are many more mouth-watering recipes for sweet potatoes, but you don’t have to take my word for it just go to Sweet potato recipes for more information.

Yam Recipes

Yams also have a meal that is exclusive to them. Golden Yam cake is a hit on the international food scene. All you need is basic cooking ingredients for cake. And the addition of the yams makes this cake light and fluffy. And all you need to top this sweet treat off is some powdered sugar.  The natural sweetness of chopped-up yams will give any stir fry the extra kick that you may be looking for.  

Yams are also often used in many soup recipes, such as chicken or goat soup.

Cultural Differences

Sweet Potatoes hold a special place in the United States whereas yams hold some American value and are mostly seen as an international dish. Many Americans use sweet potatoes as substitutes when dieting in hopes of slimming down.  And bring them out specifically for the holidays. 

Whereas in Africa which was mentioned earlier as the world’s biggest supplier of yams, they are seen as life-giving and have festivals in their honor. They are so revered in some African nations that all of the crops must be wiped out and discarded from the previous season so the new harvest can start also symbolizing a new beginning for that town or village.


Sweet potatoes and yams hold some type of value no matter where they are in the world.  Their makeup is similar and often confused with one another. But these two vegetables are different enough to satisfy anyone who is looking for a delicious treat.   

Yams and sweet potatoes are both nutritious root vegetables that can make a healthy addition to any diet. While they may look similar and can often be used interchangeably in recipes, there are distinct differences between them in terms of flavor, nutrition, and texture.

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