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Mar 9, 2010 06:48 AM

Sweet potatoes vs. yams

What is the real difference between a sweet potato and a yam? Can they be used interchangeably in recipes?

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  1. Here's what I've always been told: ALL veggies labeled "sweet potatoes" and "yams" in the West are actually biologically sweet potatoes. True yams are large, fibrous tubers commonly grown in central African countries and used as a staple food. They are virtually unknown and unavailable in the West. Those cans of "yams" are in reality sweet potatoes.

    So yes! :) Anything in the store labeled "yams" can be interchanged for "sweet potatoes" since basically all Western recipes are actually calling for sweet potatoes, even if they say to use yams.

    9 Replies
    1. re: LauraGrace

      The only difference is marketing due to their color. Genetically, they're both the same. True yams are difficult to find in the states.

      1. re: taiwanesesmalleats

        Yes. I blame BA for this partially. The say "sweet potatoes (yams)" in all recipes , like they are the same things. I don't think I've ever seen a yam...but I've cooked/eaten a hell of a lot of sweet potatoes, in many different colors and varieties.

        1. re: danna

          I wouldn't blame BA, as BA is trying to use the correct term (sweet potatoes), but when they're calling for orange-fleshed ones, like garnets and jewels, they put the (yams) there because in many market in various areas of the country, just as on those cans, they are labeled as yams, so that is what people know them as (while the yellow-fleshed ones are known as sweet potatoes regardless).

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath

            really? I guess it is a regional thing. I've never seen "yams" on anything but a can.

            1. re: danna

              I have a feeling it is common in areas of the country that are not the South. In the Northeast and West Coast, where I have lived, the darker-skinned (and fleshed) types are invariably labeled yams, except at farmers' markets.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                In Asian groceries I find other varieties, Korean, Japanese and so on. The Japanese one has dark skin, but light flesh. It is savory enough that I often eat it without seasoning (even salt).
                I don't pay attention as whether the groceries label this as Japanese sweet potato or Japanese yam.

                I haven't tried Japanese mountain yam (yamaimo) which is a very different tuber.

                1. re: paulj

                  Yes, those Japanese sweet potatoes are sold by a vendor or two at Bay Area farmers' markets (under that name); I also haven't looked to see what they're called in Asian markets. A dish combining those and orange-fleshed ones is good - nice contrasts.

        1. re: Sooeygun

          I tried searching the site to see if there was an article talking about the two. Guess I didn't search hard enough. Thanks for the info everyone! :)