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Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: Rooting Out the Tasty Truth

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

Sweet potatoes and yams are two starchy and delicious root vegetables that often find their way onto our dinner plates, particularly during the upcoming holiday season. While they share similar characteristics, including a vibrant orange hue and a natural sweetness, they are distinct in many ways. In this blog post, Caruso USA digs into the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, uncovering their differences, nutritional profiles, and culinary uses.

The Origin of Confusion

Before we dive into the details, it's important to make note of the confusion between these two vegetables. Many people mistakenly use the terms "sweet potato" and "yam" interchangeably, but they are not the same. The mix-up primarily arises from labeling practices in the United States, where sweet potatoes are often marketed as yams, leading to considerable confusion.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) belong to the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae. They are native to the Americas and have been cultivated for thousands of years. Sweet potatoes come in various colors, including orange, purple, and white. The orange-fleshed sweet potato is the most common in the United States and is often confused with yams. True sweet potatoes are sweet and have a creamy, soft texture when cooked – making a perfect side dish for your Thanksgiving dinner. And these root vegetables are packed with vitamins, particularly A and C, fiber, and essential minerals. Sweet potatoes are known for their antioxidant properties, which can help support a healthy immune system.


Yams (Dioscorea) belong to the Dioscoreaceae family and are native to Africa and Asia. They have been a staple in these regions for centuries. Yams come in various species and colors, including white, purple, and brown. Yams are rarely found in the United States and are more commonly available in international or specialty markets. True yams have a starchy and dry texture and aren’t as sweet as sweet potatoes. Yams are a good source of complex carbohydrates, fiber, and certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C and potassium. While they are not as rich in vitamin A as sweet potatoes, yams still offer several nutritional benefits.

Key Differences

Despite the frequent mistaken identity, sweet potatoes and yams are quite different. Based on appearance alone, these two root vegetables aren’t that similar. Sweet potatoes have smooth, thin, skin with bright orange, purple, or white flesh. Yams, on the other hand, have rough, scaly, and dark brown or white skin with starchy, pale flesh. The differences don’t stop there. Sweet potatoes taste sweeter and creamier, making them an excellent choice for dishes like sweet potato pie or candied yams. Yams have a milder taste and are better suited for savory dishes.

Location is a big factor on which root vegetable is available, too. Sweet potatoes are widely available in the United States, while true yams are more common in African, Asian, and international markets. And sweet potatoes are richer in vitamins, particularly vitamin A and C, and are packed with antioxidants. Yams are a good source of carbohydrates and essential nutrients but have a lower vitamin content compared to sweet potatoes.

Culinary Uses

Sweet potatoes and yams can be used in a variety of dishes, and the choice often comes down to personal preference and regional tradition. Sweet potatoes are popular in the United States for dishes like sweet potato casserole, fries, and pies. Yams, on the other hand, are more commonly used in African and Asian cuisines, where they shine in stews and mashed dishes.

While sweet potatoes and yams share certain similarities, they are distinct in terms of botanical origin, appearance, taste, nutritional content, and culinary use. The next time you're at the grocery store, consider the differences between sweet potatoes and yams, and you'll be better equipped to create scrumptious dishes that celebrate the unique qualities of each of these fantastic root vegetables.

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