Spotting the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Kale + Roasted Sweet Potato Hash.jpg

We’ve all found ourselves in this scenario at least once: you’re strolling down the aisle at your favorite grocery store and you find yourself staring down some starchy tubers. You spot your regular, fail-proof potato (personally, I’m a Yukon Gold kind of gal), sweet potatoes, and then suddenly you see it creep up from the corner of your eye. You try to look away, but you can’t. It’s got your attention and now you’re fixed on it. 

Yams. 

Sweet potatoes. 

Wait aren’t those the same thing? 

Your head snaps back and forth between the seemingly identical contenders. A cacophony of confusion and rapid comparisons erupts in your mind. Same size, indistinguishable shapes, both obey the rules of gravity. What’s the difference? Which one should you choose? Where’s my pro-con list?!

Lucky for you, I can help answer a few of those questions.

Sweet Potato vs Yam.jpg

Aren’t sweet potatoes and yams the same thing?
Nope! Although people have often thought so, sweet potatoes and yams come from two totally different plants. Sweet potatoes are a part of the morning glory family, whereas yams are more closely related to palms and other grasses. Similarly, sweet potatoes and white potatoes are unrelated. Potatoes are part of the Solanaceae family and related to tomatoes and peppers.

How can you tell them apart?
Generally, sweet potatoes taper at the ends and have an overall smooth exterior. Yams are more cylindrical and typically have rougher skin that’s described as scaly or even sometimes hairy.  

Roasted Sweet Potato + Chickpea Salad (IMG_5699).jpg

Which one is better?
If you find yourself staring down sweet potatoes or yams, go for the sweet potato! They’re a good food to eat to stay healthy: they’re fat- and cholesterol-free, and they’re loaded with nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B6, manganese, fiber, and potassium. And with sweet potatoes’ rich orange coloring comes the antioxidant beta-carotene, which is actually the pre-cursor to vitamin A. Studies have shown that an excess amount of vitamin A can be toxic, but lucky for us, the body only converts as much dietary beta-carotene as needed. Sweet potatoes also come in the color purple and have the added benefit of being rich in anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant.

Comparatively, yams are less nutritious than sweet potatoes. They have essentially the same nutrients as sweet potatoes, but just have less of them per serving. This isn’t to say that yams are completely devoid of benefits. Yams are still a good source of fiber and potassium, but if given the option to choose between yams or sweet potatoes, go for the sweet potatoes all the way!

When are sweet potatoes in season?
Although sweet potatoes are available year-round, peak season tends to be from late October to December. So be sure to grab them then! Simply roast them whole or try one of these recipes (you won’t regret it!):

Sweet Potato Black Bean Enchiladas
Sweet Potato Toast
Healthy Sweet Potato Casserole


 
Emily Wan Bio
 
NourishEmily Smith