The Difference Between a Yam and a Sweet Potato.

Food can be a tricky thing, and there are lots of questions you might have along the way. But one question in particular that seems to have people baffled is what’s the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?

Yams and sweet potatoes differ in appearance and texture, and nutritional value. Yams are indeed a completely different root vegetable from sweet potatoes. Yams have bumpy, rough, skin, and taste starchy, similar to yucca. Unlike sweet potatoes that are sweet, smooth, and higher in calories.

However, there’s a reason that yams and sweet potatoes are hard to discern. When it comes to the vegetables that you’re purchasing in the supermarket, there really is no difference between the two.

The History Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes.

Yams, while in the supermarket may look similar to sweet potatoes, are a completely different vegetable than sweet potatoes. They also probably don’t look the way you think they might. Yams have dark-colored skin, that’s rough to the touch.

They do share some similarities, for one they’re both a root. They grow under the ground and are harvested through tilling the soil, the way a potato is collected. However, they don’t hold any true relation to potatoes.

The confusion behind yams and sweet potatoes isn’t a new one. One theory is that African slaves that were brought to the U.S. called sweet potatoes “nyami,” which was interpreted as “yams.” They called it this because it was similar to the look of true yam’s which is a vegetable commonly used in African or Caribbean cooking. They were both introduced to the united states through African trading, and have become popular through African cooking.

Another theory is that the dark-skinned sweet potato was introduced to the United States, and in order to discern it from paler sweet potatoes, they were labeled “yam’s.”

Today, while you are out on your weekly shopping trip, you will notice that something that looks look a sweet potato, is marked “yam.” That is because it probably is a sweet potato.


Real yams are indigenous to Africa and Asia, and there are more than 100 types of yams worldwide. They’re rough, dark-skinned, with a typical white flesh although it can come in red color as well. They’re usually important, and your chances of finding a real yam in a common U.S. grocery store are slim.

Yam’s in comparison to sweet potatoes, taste drier and are more starch-based. They also can’t be eaten raw, unlike sweet potatoes. They can be baked, grilled, fried, as long as they’re cooked they’re safe to eat. Yams are high in potassium, and fiber, but not Vitamin A the way sweet potatoes are.

Nutritional Facts of Yams

Yams are packed with all types of good things for your body. They’re full of potassium, fiber, and manganese. All of which are important for supporting bone health, growth, and even brain function.

  • Calories: 158.
  • Carbs: 37 grams.
  • Protein: 2 grams.
  • Fat: 0 grams.
  • Fiber: 5 grams.

Yams can be somewhat harmful, however. If you happen to eat a wild yam, that hasn’t been cooked properly, it may taste bitter. This is because the alkaloid produced in yams, that is poisonous to humans. High consumption of wild yams can be fatal.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a more commonly known vegetable. Especially since you now know you’ve been consuming them twice as much. Sweet potatoes come in all kinds of colors, orange, white purple, and can also be a variety of sizes.

Close-up of baked and sliced sweet potatoes.
Close-up of baked and sliced sweet potatoes.

Sweet potatoes are cultivated and grown in hot, moist, areas such as Uganda, the south of India, and other African countries. They’re also grown in the U.S. with North Carolina being the leading sweet potato production state. Despite the name, they’re not actually related to the potato. Instead, sweet potatoes are closer to vegetables like bell peppers, and eggplants. They also aren’t related to yams.

Despite its name, it’s also not a relative to the regular potato. Even though both the potato and sweet potato originated from Central and South America, they are actually not related. They come from different “families,” with the potato coming from the nightshade and the sweet potato from the morning glory family.

They have a versatile flavor so they can be served in many different kinds of ways. While they may be served with a dessert, in pies, loaves of bread, and even cupcakes. they can also be served fried, toasted, or grilled to add a saltier flavor to the sweet vegetable.

Nutritional Facts of Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are also incredibly good for your body. With an excess amount of Vitamin A, they’re great for your skin and for your immune system!

  • Calories: 180.
  • Carbs: 41.4 grams.
  • Protein: 4 grams.
  • Fat: 0.3 grams.
  • Fiber: 6.6 grams.

Sweet potatoes may be higher in calories than Yams are, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re less healthy. Both have plenty of healthy outputs for you to benefit from, sweet potatoes just tend to be sweeter in nature than yams

Can Yams be Substituted for Sweet Potatoes?

Baking and cooking can be difficult if you think you don’t have all the ingredients, and with stores having the same vegetable being sold as two different things, you may be thinking “can I substitute the two?” and the answer is yes! (technically)

If it’s a regular store-bought yam, you can substitute it for sweet potatoes, and vice versa. The issue becomes if you’re buying a true yam, and not something being sold at your local grocery store. In that case, you cannot substitute the two. The yam would be much too bitter.


While it may look like right off the bat they’re the same thing (and maybe you are being sold the same thing,) sweet potatoes and yams couldn’t be farther apart. While we may not exactly know how the mix up occurred, it is a pretty substantial one.

So with your new found knowledge of the difference, maybe you’ve realized you’ve never had a real yam. There’s a whole new world of yams and sweet potatoes out there, just waiting for you to discover it!

Anna Silver

Anna Silver is the principal creator of, a website dedicated to new go-to original recipes. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, Anna has a passion for treating the people in her life to delicious homemade food and loves to share her family recipes with the rest of the world.

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