Except When I’m a Sweet Potato!

Though the two are often considered one and the same, a yam and a sweet potato are actually two different plants. Sweet potatoes are native to and grown in America, while yams are cultivated primarily in the Tropics. Commercially speaking, “yams” produced and marketed in the United States are considered by the trade to be a sweeter sweet potato.

North Carolina is the largest producer of U.S. sweet potatoes, followed by Louisiana and California. The North Carolina sweet potato industry used the word “YAM” to represent tender, moist, soft-fleshed sweet potatoes grown in North Carolina and in the Coastal Southeastern states down through Louisiana. This variety has a skin color that ranges from light copper to dark red and even purple. It’s bright orange flesh is sweet and moist when cooked.

To consumers and the trade, “sweet potatoes” are represented by dry, firm-fleshed varieties grown in Virginia and the Northern states near New Jersey. These potatoes take on a yellowish gray, tan or brown skin color and possess cream-colored to yellow flesh that’s dry and mealy after cooking.

Sweet potatoes and yams vary in shape and size from round to slim with tapered ends. At room temperature, they keep up to one week. At temperatures lower than 50°F, they are subject to injury, decay and pithing; some get streaked inner flesh. Handle gently and wash only before using because both varieties are subject to bruising and spoil quicker when wet.

Per cup, both cooked yams and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins A & C and potassium. Also, both yams and sweet potatoes are used in many of the same preparation methods — baking, microwaving, deep-frying and mashing.

Now, the next time you’re asked the difference between a yam and a sweet potato you’ll know — a yam is simply a sweet sweet potato.