Sweet potatoes and yams are two root vegetables that just about everybody seems to mix up. Don't worry you're definitely not alone if you find yourself a bit fuzzy on the differences between them.
One of the biggest questions that people seem to have is, "Are they interchangeable?"
Although sweet potatoes and yams do share some similarities, they are definitely not the same and probably shouldn't be substituted for one another in most cases. They are both two entirely different root vegetables that just happened to share a similar look.
Once you go beyond the surface, however, you'll definitely notice the differences between the two vegetables. For those of us who are quite calorie-conscious, this can be a pretty important distinction.
Yams originate from Africa and Asia, and have darker, brownish skin that can sometimes be rough. The flesh on the inside tends to be whitish in color and somewhat dry in texture. Because of this dryness, yams typically require more oil, butter, or other fat when cooked.
One of the biggest reasons so many Americans are confused about yams and sweet potatoes is because most grocery stores are actually mislabeling potatoes as yams. Although yams are grown around the world in a variety of climates, your best bet for finding one in the United States is to visit a farmer's market or an international market. Most major grocery stores are simply passing off of a variety of sweet potato as a yam to make a quick buck.
If you do manage to get your hands on real yams, you will find that they are a sweet root that is perfect when serve roasted as a side dish or candy with a little brown butter and brown sugar. You could also dice them up and make a hearty yam stew.
Compared to yams, sweet potatoes have a lighter skin, tapered edges, and yellow or orange flesh. There are two varieties of sweet potatoes - hard and soft, referring to the firmness of the potato. Sweet potatoes are much more climate-sensitive than yams, thriving only in warm, tropical areas.
Sweet potatoes were first introduced to the United States several decades ago. As their name suggests, they have a naturally sweet taste to them. Sweet potatoes are also very diet-friendly because it doesn't take a lot of oil or butter to cook them. They are absolutely delicious when baked and covered in a sweet maple glaze, though I personally prefer cutting them into French fries and then baking them with a spicy rub to balance out the sweet flavor.
Although both yams and sweet potatoes are packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals, there are some important nutritional differences to consider.
Yams can provide roughly 30% of your daily dose of vitamin C and nearly 800 mg of potassium. A serving of sweet potatoes, on the other hand, is absolutely jam-packed with vitamin A and also features a healthy dose of potassium. If you're trying to watch your calories, however, you're probably better off with the sweet potato as it has nearly 20% fewer calories compared to the yam.
So, What's Being Sold As "Yams" In Stores?
Let's return to the source of the sweet potato vs. yam confusion: the grocery store. Since we know that most yams commonly sold in the United States aren't actually yams, what are the grocery stores selling?
Well, as we mentioned above, there are two types of sweet potato - hard/firm and soft. The hard sweet potatoes were the first to be cultivated in the United States, so when the soft variety came around there was a need to differentiate it from its firmer counterpart. Since the softer sweet potatoes bore a closer resemblance to yams, they were labeled as such by grocers.
Here's the best way to distinguish between the two varieties:
- "Yam" - these will be the soft sweet potato variety, with copper skin and orange flesh.
- Sweet Potato - firm, with golden skin and lighter flesh.
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H/T: Tip Hero