Sweet Potato vs. Yam: What’s the Difference?

Last Update: September 27, 2022

When it comes to sweet potatoes versus yams, it’s just a case of po-tay-to or po-tah-to, right? Not so fast. These two tubers aren’t as interchangeable as you might think, and today we’re getting to the root of the issue to find out what really makes them so different.

What’s the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes?

Yams and sweet potatoes aren’t one in the same—they’re two different vegetables. Both come from flowering plants, but that’s about the only thing they have in common. Here’s a breakdown of the biggest differences between yams and sweet potatoes.

All about yams

  • Native to Africa and Asia
  • Range in size from small to large (some grow up to 5 feet tall!)
  • Related to lilies
  • Drier and starchier than sweet potatoes

All about sweet potatoes

  • Native to Central and South America
  • Soft and fluffy when baked
  • Part of the morning glory family
  • Comes in a soft variety (copper skin with orange flesh) and firm (golden skin with pale flesh)

If you’re still confused, welcome to the club. As it turns out, what your supermarket might mark as a “yam” is actually the soft variety of sweet potato (with orange flesh). Here’s the backstory: Firm sweet potatoes were produced in the U.S. before soft sweet potatoes came onto the scene. To differentiate the two options, markets started labeling the soft sweet potatoes as “yams” because of the visual resemblance.

Common Types of Sweet Potatoes

Most supermarkets carry garnet sweet potatoes, known by their rust-colored skin and bright orange flesh, but there are lots of other varieties to choose from. Here are some of the most popular.

Purple sweet potato varieties

  • Stokes Purple
  • Speckled Purple
  • Korean Purple

Red and orange sweet potato varieties

  • Envy
  • Jewel
  • Garnet
  • Beauregard
  • Covington
  • Nugget

Brown and tan sweet potato varieties

  • Hannah
  • Creamsicle
  • O’Henry
  • Okinawa

Sweet Potato Nutrition

The USDA’s national nutrient database reports that one one medium baked sweet potato (skin included) has:

  • 103 calories
  • 2.3 grams of protein
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 100 percent recommended daily value of vitamin A
  • 25 percent recommended daily value of vitamins C and B6

Yam Nutrition

The same database lists the following nutrition about yams:

  • 2 grams of protein
  • 0 grams of fat
  • 4 grams of fiber
  • 20 grams of calcium
  • 17 grams of vitamin C

Yam and Sweet Potato Recipes

Yams and sweet potatoes might have debatable origins, but there’s one thing that’s easy to agree on: they’re delicious (not to mention comforting, creamy, and versatile). Here are some of our favorite ways to cook them.

Sweet Potato Latkes

Whip up latkes on a weeknight by deviating from the classic recipe and trying our herb-infused version made with grassy celery root.

Twice-Baked Sweet Potatoes With Maple Crème Fraiche

These twice-baked potatoes are extra creamy and topped with an irresistible maple-sweetened whipped topping. It’s easy to make this recipe vegan—just use coconut cream instead of heavy cream and skip the crème fraiche.

White Chicken Chili With Sweet Potatoes

This Whole30 recipe will warm you right up. A can of coconut cream makes it extra luxurious for a dinner you’ll return to again and again.

Vegan Sweet Potato Casserole

Say goodbye to cream and hello to almond butter. This inventive flavor combo really works, and when you top the casserole with vegan marshmallows, it’ll become a family favorite for years to come.

Sweet Potato Gratin

Dairy devotees will fall for the fragrant cream sauce that’s poured over thinly sliced sweet potatoes in this fancy yet easy gratin.

Sweet potato gratin

Sweet Potato Hash Brown Waffles

Shake up your waffle routine with a savory version, in which scallions, cayenne, and paprika give the batter a real kick. It’s a brunch dish that’s absolutely share-worthy.

Sweet potato hashbrown waffles

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries With Chipotle Mayo

Fries are always a favorite. For this sweet potato option, a dusting of cumin, cayenne, and chili powder adds a little heat, while coconut sugar brings out the spuds’ natural sweetness.

Sweet potato fries with chipotle mayo

Stuffed Sweet Potatoes

You’ll officially be stuffed after enjoying these spuds topped with sautéed kale, avocado, and a tahini-turmeric sauce for added creaminess.

Baked Sweet Potato Chips

You’ll need a mandoline for this recipe to make sure the chips are extra thin. Toss ’em in a seasoning blend of salt, cumin, and paprika before baking.

Sweet Potato Spanish Omelet

Here’s a twist on tortilla española featuring ample spices and rich caramelized onions. For a tapas-inspired dinner, pair it with ham, cheese, and olives.

Hazelnut Sweet Potato Gnocchi

This Italian dinner will have you swooning. The gnocchi are made with hazelnut flour for extra nuttiness, and the whole dish is gluten-free, too. Mushroom and sage butter sauce takes every bite over the top.

Sweet potato gnocchi

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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