Q & A – Sweet Potatoes vs Yams

By / Food / October 5th, 2010 / 1

Cooking is a science. Toss out the recipe and cook with passion. I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. The problem is that we’re not all scientists or masters of improvisation, resulting in some recipes going horribly wrong. What if, every time you ran into a glitch, you had at your fingertips all the information you needed to turn your cooking disaster into a smashing success? Well, here it is. Tidings offers you a forum to share any cooking and wine related questions you have. Tell us about strange observations or contradictory information you’ve come across about recipes and food, too. We’ll put our collective experience together to shed some light and provide you with a way to fix your cooking dilemmas.

What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

In North America, these terms are often used interchangeably. But, they shouldn’t be because these two tubers are very different and not at all related. Apparently the problem arose in the United States when two types of sweet potato began to be sold commercially. One was firm (and stayed firm after cooking); the other was soft (yes, cooking made it soft). To differentiate the two, stores began labelling the soft variety “yam” no doubt helped by the fact that true yams were extremely hard to come by in most areas of the continent. Better grocery stores will now typically import real yams resulting in more accurate labelling. If in doubt, check out the quick reference points below and ask your grocer to clarify any confusing labels.

sweet potatoes
• thin, pale and smooth orange skin
• orange flesh
• mildly sweet
• native to the New World
• harvested mostly between October and January
• use in any recipe calling for white potatoes
• store in a dry, dark and cool place; do not refrigerate

• dark brown or black skin rough skin
• flesh can range from red to white depending on variety
• sweet, dry and starchy
• store in a dry, dark and cool place; do not refrigerate
• use in any recipe calling for sweet potatoes
• toxic when eaten raw
• native to Africa
• size varies from those that are as small as a potato to this that weigh 130 lbs


Rosemary Mantini has always loved words. When she isn't working as the Associate Editor at Tidings Magazine, she's helping others achieve their writing dreams, and sometimes she even relaxes with a good book and a glass of wine.

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