Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes: What’s the Difference?

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Did you think yams and sweet potatoes were the same vegetable? Well, you’re not alone – it’s a fairly common mistake for Americans to refer to certain varieties of sweet potatoes as yams.

sweet potatoes

Sure, both are angiosperms, or flowering plants, but the similarities stop there. In fact, the yam shares more traits with a daylily than it does with a sweet potato.

Native to Africa and Asia, yams are classified as monocots – plants with only one embryonic seed leaf – and are tubers, along with potatoes.

Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are dicots – having two embryonic seed leaves – and, like carrots, are storage roots. They fall into two categories: “firm” and “soft.” Firm sweet potatoes remain hard when cooked and were produced long before the soft variety, which becomes soft and moist after cooking.

Here are a few more farm facts to digest:

  • Orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are very rich in Vitamin A (beta carotene), while yams don’t contain any.
  • Typically only found at international markets, true yams have white flesh and are starchier and drier than sweet potatoes.
  • Members of the morning glory family, sweet potatoes originated in Central and South America.
  • Around 95 percent of the 600 varieties of yams worldwide are grown in Africa.
  • Lincoln County leads the state in sweet potato production with 171 acres of the crop (source: U.S. Census of Agriculture).
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the misnomer “yam” to be accompanied with the term “sweet potato.”

Sweet Side Dishes

Our sweet potato casserole goes the opposite direction of the typical requisites of marshmallows and brown sugar. Instead, this savory side dish gets its flavor from bacon, rosemary, shallots (a variety of onion) and Gruyere cheese. Here’s the recipe for Savory Sweet Potato Casserole.

Reader Polly Wagner originally created this Sweet Potato and Pineapple Casserole recipe to encourage her children to eat sweet potatoes, and it’s now a family favorite. Check out the recipe here.


  1. Sonya George

    November 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    I LOVE GETTING YOUR E-MAIL and just shared it with a friend this morning! Please enter me in the contest for the baking goodies and cookbook. KEEP ON DOING WHAT YOU DO BEST, I am certain MANY other people enjoy your website as much as I do and support the Farm Bureau and full time farmers like my husband. 🙂 Thanks, Sonya George, 4398 Andersonville Highway, Andersonville, TN 37705-2902

  2. gary mitchell

    August 22, 2013 at 10:38 pm

    Fifty years ago I worked at Knowles Super Market in Sparta Tn. I remember at about this time of year a man came around from Lincoln Co. with a load of sweet potatoes. They are far superior in taste than any other. I was in Brassel’s produce in Sparta about this time last year, I saw these orange sweet potatoes and I knew immediately where they were from, Lincoln County. I told the clerk where they were from and she said that’s right. I’m looking to find some of this years crop real soon. Gary mitchell

  3. albert beatty

    February 2, 2015 at 1:21 pm

    WHAT DOES A YAM look like is it the same as a sweet tater?

    • Jessy Yancey

      March 18, 2015 at 4:52 pm

      Hi Albert,

      Yam flesh is white, not orange, and they are and longer and skinnier than sweet potatoes. They are pretty difficult to find in the U.S.

      Hope this helps!

      Jessy Yancey
      editor, Tennessee Home & Farm

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