Is there a difference between yams and sweet potatoes? Absolutely! Let's just say your Thanksgiving candied yams probably aren't yams. To clear up the confusion here is everything you need to know about the difference.
Is a yam a sweet potato? Or is a sweet potato a yam?
While both yams and sweet potatoes are flowering plants (angiosperms), they are not related. A sweet potato is not a type of yam and a yam is not a type of sweet potato. Yams are native to Africa and Asia, and thus over 90% of yam crops are grown in Africa. They are closely related to lilies. There are many different varieties of yams which range drastically in size. They are also usually starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.
On the other hand, sweet potatoes belong to the morning glory family. These potatoes can range not only in size, but in skin color and flesh color. Varieties of sweet potatoes are grown in the United States.
The question then becomes, why is there such confusion between the two? As mentioned above, sweet potatoes (both the firm and soft varieties) are grown within the United States. However, the "firm" variety was the first sweet potato crop to be introduced. The "soft" variety, which was introduced later, resembled yams. Enslaved Africans thus began to call them yams because of their similar appearence. The term "yams" continued to be attached to the "soft" variety in order to distinguish them from the "firm" variety. Currently, the USDA requires sweet potatoes labeled "yams" to also include "sweet potatoes" in its signage. Slightly confusing, we know! For the most part, unless you are shopping in an international produce market and buy actual yams there, you are more than likely consuming sweet potatoes. The above photo shows sweet potatoes (left) next to yams (right), just so you can visualize the difference.
What are the different types of sweet potato?
There are over 6,000 varieties of sweet potatoes internationally. They range in skin and flesh color as well as size and shape. The skin can be red, yellow-orange, purple, white and tan. The flesh of a sweet potato can be found in all of those colors but tan, as well. The United States produces mostly Beauregard and Jewell sweet potatoes. Beauregard potatoes are produced in Louisiana, and can have a rosy skin color and orange flesh. Jewell potatoes are produced in North Carolina, and are characteristically copper in skin color and have deep orange colored flesh.
As mentioned above, sweet potatoes can be characterized as either "firm" or "soft". "Firm" sweet potatoes remain firm when cooked, while the "soft" type of sweet potato become moist.
What are some great yam and sweet potato recipes?
Here are a few great sweet potato recipes you will love:
Image Credits: (Sweet Potatoes) Brand X Pictures/Getty Images, (Yam) Isabelle Rozenbaum/Getty Images