Sweet Potatoes Versus Yams

Sweet potatoes versus yams. Which is which and what should you use for sweet potato fries, casseroles, or pies? This is a helpful guide + tips

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Sweet potatoes versus yams. What is the difference? You go to the supermarket to buy yams for your family’s signature Thanksgiving candied yams, but what you think are yams are labeled “sweet potatoes.” Will they work in your recipe? Yes, because in the U.S. they are basically the same thing.

2 hands holding yam and sweet potato
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Yams equal sweet potatoes, at least here

In U.S. supermarkets pretty much every tuber labeled “sweet potato” or “yam” is a sweet potato. Historically, some of the darkish red skin and orange flesh ones, got labeled and marketed as yams, especially those sold in cans.

Whether called sweet potatoes or yams, the most popular are the Jewel, Beauregard, and Garnet varieties . That’s probably what you think of when you think of sweet potatoes and what I usually use in my recipes. They have reddish skin and moist, deep orange flesh.

2 image collage showing peeler peeling sweet potato and yam

Which is healthier: sweet potato versus yam?

Who wins the nutritional content contest of sweet potatoes versus. yams? They are both good for you, but a typical sweet potato will have loads more vitamin C and beta carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A and is great for vision, skin, and the immune system.

2 hands holding yam and sweet potato

In general, according to the Harvard School of Public health, the darker the sweet potato’s flesh, the more packed it will be with vitamins. Purple sweet potatoes also have anthocyanins, the photo chemicals that give the potato its bright color and which scientists believe could contain health benefits.

Tips for when to use various types sweet potatoes

There are some 400 varieties in total! Here are some types you might encounter. Here’s also a quick guide on how to cut sweet potatoes or yams.

  1. The Beauregard. This is the most common type grown and sold in the U.S. It has an orange-tan skin, deep orange flesh, and a long, oval shape. Serve it mashed, pureed in dessert, or sliced into sweet potato fries.
  2. The Garnet: This sweet potato looks like a plumper version of the Beauregard and stands out in desserts. According to Serious Eats, it has the most pumpkin-like flavor. However, due to their soft texture, they do not make the best fries.
  3. The Jewel: Also reddish skinned and orange inside, these are called “the queen of sweet potatoes.” They are good for baking.
  4. The Hannah: This is one of the lighter-skinned varieties. It turns yellow when cooked. Slightly starchier, put it to work when you want to make fries, roast sweet potatoes in chunks, or even stir fry.
  5. Japanese: Reddish tan on the outside and yellow inside, these are a treat baked. In Japan, they are sold as street food! These sweet potatoes have a complex, nutty flavor that caramelizes a little when slow-roasted in the oven.
2 image collage showing whole sweet potato and cut sweet potato on left and showing whole yam and cut yam on the right

For more cooking resources:

Cutting board with cut sweet potatoes and yams

If you find this article on The Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams helpful, I’d love to hear from you! And if you snapped some shots of any of these tips and tricks, please share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!

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