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Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams: What Is The Difference?

sweet potatoes vs yams

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Both sweet potatoes and yams are staples in fall and Thanksgiving meals. Traditionally, many American Thanksgiving tables include some type of sweet potato or yam dish. But do you know the difference between the two vegetables?

The terms “sweet potatoes” and “yams” are often used interchangeably, but they are two different vegetables – and in fact, aren’t even part of the same plant family! Sweet potatoes are more commonly found in American grocery stores and have a sweeter, fluffier, and more moist texture. By comparison, true yams can be harder to find and have a much starchier, drier texture. Both ingredients can be used in a variety of dishes on restaurant menus.

At Budget Branders, we work with independently owned and operated food service businesses throughout the United States. We offer high-quality disposable promotional products – like wax deli paper that can be slipped under an order of sweet potato fries – that can be custom printed with your restaurant or food truck’s name and logo. All of our branded disposable products are available at fair prices and in smaller quantities that work for smaller businesses.

Sweet Potatoes

What Are Sweet Potatoes?

Sweet potatoes are starchy root vegetables that likely originated in South or Central America. Despite their name, sweet potatoes are not closely related to potatoes. However, like the potato, the roots of the sweet potato plant are eaten as a vegetable. Some people also eat the leaves and shoots as greens.

There are two main types of sweet potatoes: dark-skinned and golden-skinned. Dark-skinned sweet potatoes have an orange flesh that is soft and sweet. These are the sweet potatoes that most people think of when looking for this type of tuber in the grocery store. They are long and tapered in shape with bright orange flesh.

Golden-skinned sweet potatoes have a light yellow flesh. They are often less sweet than dark-skinned sweet potatoes and tend to have drier flesh.

Sweet potatoes are a year-round staple in the United States, due to their long shelf life. They can be found whole in the produce department of the grocery store, or canned or frozen.

Sweet potatoes are incredibly nutritious. They are low in calories and fat and have a lot of great vitamins and minerals. A single serving of sweet potatoes contains 384% of your recommended daily value (DV) for Vitamin A, 33% of your DV of Vitamin C, and 25% of your DV for Manganese – plus  Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, and Copper.

Popular sweet potato dishes include:

  • Sweet potato casserole (with or without marshmallows!)
  • Mashed sweet potatoes
  • Sweet potato fries
  • Roasted sweet potatoes
  • Baked sweet potatoes
  • Sweet potato gnocchi
  • Candied sweet potatoes
  • Sweet potato pie



What Are Yams?

Like sweet potatoes, yams are also a root vegetable. This vegetable originated in Africa and Asia and is often found in Latin America and the Caribbean. There are more than 600 varieties of yams, most of which are grown in Africa.

Yams have a cylindrical shape and a rough, bark-like skin. This skin is difficult to peel. The flesh of yam can range in color from white or yellow to pink or purple. They can grow much larger than sweet potatoes.

Taste-wise, yams are much starchier and more dry than sweet potatoes. True yams are harder to find in the United States. Most commonly, you can purchase true yams at international or ethnic grocery stores. 

Yams are a staple food in many parts of the world, particularly in Africa. You can buy whole yams, or in powder or flour form. In Africa, yams are usually boiled, roasted, or fried. Purple yams are – also known as ube – often used in parts of Asia in desserts.

Like sweet potatoes, true yams have a long shelf life and are nutritious. They are low in calories and fat and high in fiber. Yams offer 20% of the recommended daily value for Vitamin C, 11% of the DV for Vitamin B6, 19% of the DV for Potassium, and 19% of the DV for Manganese. They also have a number of other vitamins and minerals, including Vitamin A, Vitamins B1, B2, and B5, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, and Copper.

Popular yam recipes include:

  • Yam hash
  • Yam stew
  • Pounded yam or Fufu (used with soups and stews like Egusi)
  • Yam fritters
  • Boiled yam, served with sauce
  • Roasted yam
  • Yam fritters
  • Yam fries
  • Ube ice cream
  • Ube cookies
  • Ube pancakes
  • Ube jam (Halayang Ube)

Why Do Americans Confuse Sweet Potatoes and Yams?

The terms “sweet potatoes” and “yams” are often used interchangeably in the U.S., despite the fact that these two tubers are very different. The confusion started long ago when enslaved Africans saw light-skinned sweet potatoes in the United States. Because sweet potatoes reminded enslaved people of yams, they often referred to them as “nyami,” which roughly translates to yam.

Over time, it became more common to use the word yam to describe sweet potatoes. In addition, when darker-skinned sweet potatoes were introduced to the U.S. a few decades ago, they were marketed as yams to distinguish them from pale-skinned sweet potatoes. To this day, many grocery stores still label the popular dark-skinned, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes as yam. Most yams that you will find in standard American grocery stores are actually sweet potatoes.

Yams and sweet potatoes don’t just come from different plant families. They are also prepared and eaten differently. Sweet potatoes are often baked, mashed, or roasted, often as an alternative to regular white potatoes. These tubers may also be baked as a casserole or a pie, pureéd in a soup, or served as fries. Its sweet flavor and fluffy texture lend itself to both sweet and savory applications.

True yams are much more commonly found in Africa and Asia. They are starchier and are often used to make dishes like fufu that are served alongside stews and soups. Yams are also boiled, roasted, and fried to make main dishes. In Asia, purple yams (ube) are often used for desserts.

Both vegetables are nutritious and delicious – but they are very different in terms of their flavor and texture. If you can find true yams – either whole or in powder or flour form – they could be a great addition to your menu. 

Work with Budget Branders

Sweet potatoes and yams may be different veggies, but in the U.S. it isn’t uncommon to use either term to describe what is actually a sweet potato. While this tuber is often associated with Thanksgiving, it can be used in dishes throughout the year, from sweet potato fries to black bean and sweet potato tacos. This cheap, versatile vegetable is a delicious addition to any menu.

From our headquarters in Michigan, Budget Branders works with restaurants, brew pubs, food trucks, and cafes across the United States. We offer high-quality disposable products, including custom plastic cups, custom plastic stadium cups, custom coffee cups, custom coffee sleeves, custom ripple cups, custom soup bowls, custom ice cream bowls, custom sandwich bags, and more. Each of our products can be custom-printed with your business’ name and logo to help you stand out from the crowd – and make your marketing budget go further.

If you’re considering using branded disposable products in your restaurant, we are happy to partner with you. To learn more or to request a quote, contact us today by pressing the live chat button, or sending us a message online.


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