Sweet potatoes and yams are often referred to as the same food, yet both of these roots have several noticeable differences. What exactly is the difference between these tubers? Read on to learn about the intricacies of sweet potatoes and yams.

What Is A Sweet Potato?

sweet potatoes in a bundle on a table

Sweet potatoes are a naturally sweet root vegetable with over 400 variants. They are a popular choice when cooking and can be fried, baked, mashed or boiled into a variety of dishes.

Sweet potatoes are known for their numerous health benefits. They hold high levels of beta-carotene, which significantly raises levels of vitamin A in our blood to help prevent prostate cancer, vision problems and other medical issues. The spuds also promote healthy digestion, boost the immune system, lower blood pressure and are high in vitamin C and potassium.

What Is A Yam?

large yams for sale

Yams are root vegetables that are often confused for sweet potatoes. They can grow up to weigh up to 150 pounds and be nearly seven feet long.

Yams have many of the same health benefits as sweet potatoes, and they even contain lower levels of sugar, making them a better choice for maintaining healthy blood sugar levels. Yams also regulate blood pressure and provide high levels of fiber and vitamin B6, an essential nutrient for your liver and metabolism.

How Are They Different?

purple sweet potato

Sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America, and they are part of the morning glory family; yams are a root native to South Africa and are in the Dioscoreaceae family. Physically, sweet potatoes are incredibly small -- the average potato weighing less than a pound. Yams are much larger, scaling several feet when they are fully grown and weighing over 100 pounds at their maximum weight. While sweet potatoes often have a thin, edible layer of skin around their soft, fleshy insides, yams have thicker, rougher skin with a tough inside. Sweet potatoes are also much more commercially available, whereas yams are usually found in markets in tropical locations.

How Are They Similar?

sweet potatoes in a mix

While sweet potatoes and yams aren't directly related, they are both classified as tuberous roots and harvested in their root form. Another thing they have in common is that they are a heart-healthy root loaded with vitamins and potassium. Both veggies are also commonly eaten around fall holidays, particularly Thanksgiving and Christmas, where they are often used as ingredients in seasonal desserts such as sweet potato pie and figgy pudding. While sweet potatoes are a bit more sugary, yams are also naturally sweet and have an almost honey-like taste. As such, they can be used interchangeably in many dishes.

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