HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED WHAT DIFFERENTIATES A SWEET POTATO FROM A YAM? I HAVE. SO, I LOOKED INTO IT, AND THIS IS WHAT I LEARNED!

Colorful, oddly-shaped, bright or white flesh, these spuds taste heavenly when cooked no matter how you prepare them.

Yes, I’m talking about sweet potatoes.

Oh, wait, are those yams?

Which is which, anyway?

And, nutritionally speaking, does it matter?

Aren’t they basically the same?

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between sweet potatoes and yams.

GROCERY STORES ARE MISLEADING…

There are two popular types of sweet potatoes found in most American grocery stores: “firm” and “soft.” The yams in most American grocery stores are ‘soft’ sweet potatoes (best for pies) as opposed to the more common ‘firm’ type.

Why such a confusing labeling conundrum?

The ‘firm’ type of sweet potatoes was common in America, but the ‘soft’ variety hailed from outside the country. The word “yams” was given to the ‘soft’ type to differentiate the two in order to avoid confusion once this new type was brought over to America. 1 Sadly, I think it created more confusion. This is why you’ll see labels for both sweet potatoes and yams at your local store.

WHAT DO THEY REALLY LOOK LIKE?

True yams hail from African and Asian countries, as well as Tropical locations, and are often hard to find at local grocery stores. This starchy tuber has a somewhat hairy, blackish exterior, with a white or purple flesh.

Sweet potatoes come in a variety of colors and textures. They usually possess a golden-orangish exterior skin, but may contain an orange, yellow, or even purple interior. These are the starches that flood your grocery store shelves (and floor).

Ninety-nine percent of the time, the “sweet potatoes” and “yams” you see in the produce section really all just different kinds of sweet potatoes. Don’t worry too much about telling them apart. Yams are actually kind of hard to find. If you really want one, try international or specialty markets because, as I said, you probably won’t find them at your average grocery store.

CAN I SUBSTITUTE YAMS WITH SWEET POTATOES?

These two root vegetables might look a little different, but does it matter which one you eat?

One really important difference is that you can eat sweet potatoes raw (if you really want to). Raw yams, on the other hand, are toxic when eaten raw, but perfectly fine when cooked.

In terms of nutrition, these two sources of complex carbohydrates are fairly similar. Both are a good source of fiber and are relatively low on the GI scale (54 for yams and 71 for sweet potatoes).2 And both provide significant amounts of vitamin C, B1, copper, and manganese.

But the bright-orange flesh found in many sweet potatoes contains a lot more beta-carotene (vitamin A) than yams. In fact, a 3.5-ounce serving provides roughly 283 percent of your daily vitamin A needs. The whiter flesh of yams, on the other hand, provides a meager 5 percent.

NUTRIENT

SWEET POTATO (100G)

YAM (100G)

Vitamin A

283%

2%

Vitamin C

4%

28%

Carbohydrates

20 g

28 g

Fiber

3 g

4 g

Glycemic Index

71

54

*United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient

Database for Standard Reference Release 283.

HOW TO ENJOY SWEET POTATOES AND YAMS

You and I both know the best way to enjoy sweet potatoes is in a pie. Of course, you can also roast, boil, and mash, but I think pie takes the cake. See what I did there? I made myself LOL…

Yams, fortunately, can be prepared and cooked very similar to sweet potatoes. When working with a large yam, it’s best to peel and wash before enjoying. Smaller yams, however, may be cooked right in their flesh. You may roast, boil, or mash, but if you want to eat yams in the traditional African fashion, pound your cooked yams into a stiff paste (referred to as fufu) and then roll into balls and dip in a hearty stew. Yum!

References

  1. What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams? The Kitchn. Accessed December 11, 2015. http://www.thekitchn.com/whats-the-difference-between-yams-and-sweet-potatoes-word-of-mouth-211176.
  2. Glycemic index and glycemic load for 100+ foods. Harvard Health Publications: Harvard Medical School. Accessed December 11, 2015. http://www.health.harvard.edu/ .
  3. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference Release 28. Accessed December 11, 2015. http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods.