Sweet potatoes or yams?

by Caroline Brown

Sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing, although many people use the words interchangeably. But there are some differences for you to think about if you’re planning to make “candied yams” over the holidays.

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are a vining plant in the morning glory family, probably native to Central and/or South America. The root of the vine is a elongated tuber with tapered ends & smooth skin. There are two main types. Dry flesh sweet potatoes have thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow, crumbly, not-very-sweet flesh similar in texture to a baking potato.

Other sweet potatoes have moist, orange, sweet-tasting flesh with thick, dark orange or reddish brown skin. This is the kind that is most often erroneously called a yam.

Yams (Dioscorea batatas) are also vining plants, but they’re in the yam family and are native to Africa and Asia. Yams are long and cylindrical and have rough, almost scaly skin. They are underground tubers.

True yams aren’t found very often in the US, although they are popular in Latin America. The origin of the word yam is believed to be in the African word

The word “yam” is believed to be a derivation of an African word “nyami” that means “to eat” or “to taste.” It is thought that Africans who were brought to America as slaves were the first ones to call sweet potatoes “yams.”

So when you make “candied yams,” you’re most likely not using yams at all but the orange-fleshed sweet potatoes.

Hope you have a relaxing holiday with your family and loved ones!

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.


5 Comments to “Sweet potatoes or yams?”

  1. I love ’em both, I think sweet potatoes have a bit more flavour though. Happy Thanksgiving to you, Curt and the kitties three. Hope your dinner is a big success. πŸ™‚

  2. That’s very interesting…I love to learn things like this…thanks, Caroline! I hope you are having a fun and relaxing holiday, too. πŸ™‚


  4. I stuck some sweet potato pieces in the ground a few months ago and forgot about them. Eventually a lovely, deep green vine with beautiful lavender and dark purple blossoms appeared between the squash and beans. I hoped it was the long-ago planted sweet potatoes and now it appears it is because I’ve found red tuber-like growths below. My question is, how do I know when they are ready to harvest? Should I wait for the vine to die? In Southern California it’s still warm and the vines are continuing to put on new growth and blossoms.

  5. I think sweet potatos are better yams are just 😦

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