I Yam What I Yam: Differentiating Yams and Sweet Potatoes

Let’s clear the air. Oftentimes, the “yams” you are exposed to are nothing more than soft sweet potatoes! True yams and sweet potatoes are entirely different beasts, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Help solve yam’s identity crisis with this comparative guide.


The easiest way to find out if you have a yam is to pick it up. While sweet potatoes are typically smooth, orange hued vegetables, yams have rough, almost bark like brown skin. Additionally, the meat is white rather than orange. There can be a big size discrepancy between the two as well; yams range from standard potato size to upwards of 130 pounds!

  • Fun Fact: Sweet potatoes and yams both grown on vines! However, they grow slightly differently and are classified as root vegetables and tubers, respectively.


Sweet potatoes are stateside crops, while yams are typically grown in Africa and Central America, so it’s natural that their seasonalities are a bit different. Premium sweet potatoes are available in the fall, with yams following close behind with an early winter season.


Generally, yams will be heavy and dry in texture, more akin to white russet potatoes rather than the traditionally soft and moist sweet potato. However, this means that yams can often be substituted into recipes that call for potatoes, as the versatile vegetable can be boiled, roasted, or fried!


Despite being confused for sweet potatoes for generations, yams actually have a fairly different flavor profile. You’ll find them to be much starchier than sweet potatoes, with a more typical “potato” flavor. It’s important to note that yams must be served cooked, as they can be potentially toxic if served raw.

Nutritional Content

In terms of nutritional content, sweet potatoes may have the leg up on yams. They’re higher in vitamins A and C, manganese, and fiber. However, chefs looking to minimize carbs may be better off with yams, as they typically contain 10% less carbs than sweet potatoes of the same size.