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Yams vs Sweet Potatoes

Yams vs Sweet Potatoes | Know The 10 Super Differences

When you stroll through the produce section of your local grocery store, it’s easy to confuse yams and sweet potatoes. Both are starchy tubers, often displayed side by side, and frequently mislabeled. However, yams and sweet potatoes are distinct in flavour, texture, and nutritional value.

This article will dive deep into the facts related to yams vs sweet potatoes, comparing their origins, characteristics, health benefits, and culinary uses. By the end, you’ll be well-equipped to differentiate between these two tubers and make the best choice for your dietary needs.

Yams vs Sweet Potatoes

1. What Are Yams?

Origin and History of Yams

Yams are native to Africa and Asia and have been cultivated for thousands of years. They belong to the Dioscoreaceae family and are a staple in many tropical countries. Historically, yams were essential in the diets of African and Caribbean people, providing a rich source of carbohydrates and essential nutrients.

Physical Characteristics of Yams

Yams are typically cylindrical and can grow quite large, sometimes reaching up to five feet in length. They have rough, scaly, and often dark brown skin with white, purple, or reddish flesh, depending on the variety. Their texture is starchy and dry, making them a versatile ingredient in many savoury dishes.

2. What Are Sweet Potatoes?

Origin and History of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, belong to the Convolvulaceae family and are native to Central and South America. They were first cultivated by the indigenous peoples of these regions and later spread worldwide due to their adaptability and nutritional value.

Physical Characteristics of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have smoother, thinner skin compared to yams, which can be orange, purple, yellow, or white. Their flesh is moist and sweet, ranging in colour from deep orange to pale yellow, depending on the variety. They are generally smaller and more uniformly shaped than yams. You can also check the difference between potato and sweet potato here.

3. Nutritional Comparison

Nutrient Yams Sweet Potatoes
Calories 118 kcal 86 kcal
Carbohydrates 27.5 g 20.1 g
Protein 1.5 g 1.6 g
Fat 0.2 g 0.1 g
Fiber 4.1 g 3.0 g
Sugar 0.5 g 4.2 g
Vitamin A 7 IU 14187 IU
Vitamin C 17.1 mg 2.4 mg
Calcium 17 mg 30 mg
Iron 0.5 mg 0.6 mg


Yams and sweet potatoes both provide a good source of carbohydrates, but they differ in their macronutrient profiles. Yams are lower in sugar and slightly higher in fibre compared to sweet potatoes. On the other hand, sweet potatoes are higher in vitamins, particularly vitamin A due to their beta-carotene content.


Sweet potatoes are renowned for their high vitamin A content, which is crucial for eye health, immune function, and skin health. They also contain significant amounts of vitamin C, manganese, and potassium. Yams, while also nutritious, offer more potassium and vitamin C but lack the high beta-carotene content of sweet potatoes.

4. Health Benefits

Benefits of Yams

Yams are excellent for digestive health due to their high fibre content. They also have anti-inflammatory properties and are beneficial for controlling blood sugar levels, making them a good option for individuals with diabetes.

Benefits of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a powerhouse of antioxidants, particularly beta-carotene, which helps in preventing chronic diseases and boosting the immune system. Their high fibre content aids in digestion, and their natural sweetness can help healthily satisfy sugar cravings.

5. Culinary Uses

Cooking with Yams

Yams are often used in savoury dishes and can be boiled, roasted, or fried. They are a staple in many African and Caribbean recipes, including pounded yam, yam porridge, and yam fries. Due to their starchy nature, they hold up well in soups and stews.

Cooking with Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile and can be used in both sweet and savoury dishes. They are commonly baked, mashed, roasted, or turned into fries. Popular dishes include sweet potato pie, sweet potato casserole, and roasted sweet potatoes with herbs. Their natural sweetness also makes them a great ingredient for desserts and baked goods.

6. Cultivation and Availability

Growing Conditions for Yams

Yams thrive in tropical climates with well-drained soil and plenty of moisture. They require a long growing season, typically between 8 to 11 months, and are often grown from pieces of tuber called “seed yams.”

Growing Conditions for Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are more adaptable to different climates and can be grown in both tropical and temperate regions. They prefer sandy, well-drained soil and need a warm growing season of about 4 to 6 months. Sweet potatoes are typically grown from “slips,” which are sprouts from a mature sweet potato.

7. Misconceptions and Labeling

Mislabeling in Stores

One of the biggest sources of confusion between yams and sweet potatoes is the mislabeling in grocery stores. In the United States, what are often labelled as “yams” are sweet potatoes. True yams are less common and usually found in international or speciality markets.

Clarifying the Confusion

Understanding the physical characteristics and origins of yams and sweet potatoes can help clear up this confusion. Remember, yams are larger with rough, scaly skin and starchy flesh, while sweet potatoes are smaller with smooth skin and sweet, moist flesh.

8. Taste and Texture Comparison

Taste of Yams

Yams have a more neutral, earthy flavour with a dry, starchy texture. They are not as sweet as sweet potatoes and can absorb the flavours of the spices and seasonings used in cooking.

Taste of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, true to their name, have a natural sweetness and a creamy, smooth texture when cooked. They can be enjoyed simply baked or used in a variety of dishes to add a touch of sweetness and nutritional boost.

9. Dietary Preferences and Restrictions

Yams in Special Diets

Yams are an excellent choice for those following a low-glycemic diet due to their lower sugar content and high fibre. They are also gluten-free, making them suitable for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Sweet Potatoes in Special Diets

Sweet potatoes are a favourite among those on paleo or whole30 diets because of their nutritional density and natural sweetness. They are also gluten-free and can be enjoyed by individuals with various dietary restrictions.

10. Buying and Storing Tips

Selecting Yams

When buying yams, look for firm tubers with unblemished skin. Avoid any that are soft or have mold. Store yams in a cool, dark place, but not in the refrigerator, as cold temperatures can affect their texture.

Selecting Sweet Potatoes

Choose sweet potatoes that are firm with smooth skin. Avoid any that have soft spots or sprouts. Store sweet potatoes in a cool, dark place where they can last for several weeks.


So, the yams vs sweet potatoes comparison comes to an end here. While yams and sweet potatoes might look similar at first glance, they are quite different in many aspects. Understanding their origins, nutritional benefits, culinary uses, and physical characteristics can help you make informed decisions in the kitchen.

Whether you prefer the starchy, earthy flavour of yams or the sweet, creamy taste of sweet potatoes, both tubers offer unique benefits and can be a nutritious addition to your diet. Next time you’re in the grocery store, you’ll confidently distinguish between yams and sweet potatoes, making the best choice for your culinary and nutritional needs.

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