To those who do not know better, sweet potato and yam are the same thing. However, not only is this not true, they do not even belong to the same plant family! The reason for the confusion is natural because everyone is using those 2 terms interchangeably everywhere. Even going to the supermarket can leave you confused, but read on to finally learn how to distinguish between the two.
Sweet potatoes are much more popular in the Americas because it originated in South or Central America. On the other hand, yams are sweeter and bigger, though they do not have as many nutrients. The former (sweet potatoes) belong to the morning glory family and the latter (yam) is more closely related to lilies compared to sweet potatoes. These differences also mean that distinguishing which is as important as knowing how to cook each one properly.
What Are Sweet Potatoes?
They are highly believed to be a native to Central or South America and are a favorite in the American South. Nowadays, though, this root vegetable from the Ipomoea genus is shipped and enjoyed all over the world. They are sold the whole year round, thanks to the warm weather where they grow. Plus, they can be put through a curing process after being harvested so that they can be stored for more than a year. To those who are living in areas where they are not grown, they can purchase them pre-peeled and pre-cooked as well, as well as frozen or in cans.
Two types of sweet potatoes can be found, differentiated through the color of the skin. One is yellow and the other a darker shade of orange. Both have an elongated shape. However, the ones with paler skin are dry and not sweet, as well as having a crumbly texture. The darker skinned ones are more likely to be mistaken for yam and they have skin that is darker orange to red. The flesh inside is just as orange and has a moist texture. The latter type can be fried, mashed, and baked. It can also be pureed in soups and desserts like pie.
What Are Yams?
Although they may look similar, the difference between yams and sweet potatoes is huge. They are not even distantly related to each other, although they both grow and are popular in Latin America and the Caribbean. They originated, however, in Africa and are a staple there.
The skin also looks highly different because yams have dark brown or black skin that is scaly like tree bark. The flesh can be in different colors, like red, off-white, and purple. They are also sweeter compared to sweet potatoes and can grow longer than 7 feet and heavier than 150 pounds.
When it comes to sweet potato vs yam, the latter is certainly found in more cuisines worldwide, specifically in Africa. They can also be fried, boiled, and roasted. While they are more difficult to grow, they have a longer shelf life lasting 6 months. The purple variety is hugely popular in Asian countries like Indonesia, Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines. They are often added to desserts.
Unfortunately, it is not as popular in the United States and it is not easy to find them in supermarkets. Thus, you will need to head over to special groceries where they sell products from Africa or Asia.
The Reason For The Confusion
In many American supermarkets, the terms sweet potatoes and yams are easily used interchangeably, although they are very different vegetables. Thus, the answer to the question, “are yams and sweet potatoes the same thing?“ is a clear NO. However, there is a reason for the confusion.
It can be attributed to the fact that African slaves were reminded of the yams they knew back home whenever they saw the local sweet potato. Thus, they named it “nyami“, which is the local name for yam in Africa. Beyond that, producers have contributed to the confusion. The variety of sweet potato that is darker in skin color and has orange flesh was just recently introduced in the US. The sellers wanted to make it easy to differentiate between the two and thus, labeled them as “yams“. However, they are certainly not the same as the real yam.
How To Cook And Prepare Sweet Potatoes And Yams
They are actually both versatile in preparation, and they can be roasted, fried, steamed or boiled. Because it is more traditional in the US, sweet potato is more commonly used in local dishes.
The best part about the sweet potato is that it goes with both savory and sweet dishes. It is also a great alternative to potatoes, so they can both be used for mashed potatoes and even fries. It is also commonly pureed in soups as well as desserts. It is a part of the traditional Thanksgiving table, either as a pie or as a casserole with marshmallows.
Because they are not as common in the US, not many people know how to cook and prepare yams. Finding them fresh is also not as easy, though yam powder and flour can be found for sale in special groceries. They can then be used for dough and also for instant mashed potatoes. In some health stores, they are sold as a supplement.
Which Is Healthier?
Both yams and sweet potatoes can be a good addition to your diet. Sweet potatoes, for example, have fewer calories than yams. They are also a good source of vitamin C and beta carotene. This converts to vitamin A, with a 100-gram serving providing enough to meet the daily recommended amount.
Raw yams, on the other hand, are a good source of manganese and potassium, which are good for your bones, heart, and metabolism.
If you are in an ordinary American supermarket, then what you will find is most likely one of the two kinds of sweet potato. If you are, however, interested in trying out something new, then you can find yams in one of many international supermarkets.