Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes

When the holidays roll around, everyone always asks me the same question: “Are yams and sweet potatoes the same thing?” And honestly, I understand the confusion. Many yams and sweet potatoes are the exact same color and texture and reside next to each other at the store.

Although they are often interchangeable in recipes without too much of a difference, they are, in fact, two completely different vegetables from two different parts of the world.

a picture with yams and sweet potatoes in the united states.

Overall, most people want to understand if you can substitute a yam for a sweet potato or the other way around. The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that the recipe matters.

Yams are generally used in more savory dishes (like a traditional white potato) and have a more earthy flavor to them, while sweet potatoes are exactly what their name entails: sweet. Sweet potatoes are also creamier and make better use for a mashed potato dish and sweet holiday casserole recipes.

Both sweet potatoes and yams are equally delicious candied.

Yams and Sweet Potatoes in the United States

However, in the US, this all goes out the window. Its important to note that in the United States, the term is often interchangeable for marketing, and a sweet potato might be labeled as a yam and vice versa.

If you are looking for a true yam, the USDA has required that sweet potatoes labeled as yams declare that they are actually sweet potatoes on the packaging.

Common names for yams in the US are jeweled yams and garnet yams, but both are technically sweet potatoes. To find a yam in America that is actually a yam, you would likely need to try an international or specialty grocery store.

yams in the US are sweet potatoes.

Here is an easy chart to understand the difference between these root vegetables.

CharacteristicDetails
DescriptionYam: Rough, starchy tubers.
Sweet Potato: Smooth, sweet tubers.
AppearanceYam: Rough, dark skin.
Sweet Potato: Smooth, orange skin.
TypesYam: Puna, Yellow, Water.
Sweet Potato: Beauregard, Garnet, Jewel.
RecipesYam: Porridge, Fried, Balls.
Sweet Potato: Pie, Fries, Roasted.
TasteYam: Starchy, less sweet.
Sweet Potato: Sweet, moist.
PriceYam: Varies, often higher.
Sweet Potato: Varies, often lower.
SeasonalityYam: Year-round, peak late summer.
Sweet Potato: Year-round, peak fall.
differences in sweet potatoes and hams