I always thought the only distinction between sweet potatoes and yams was the color of their flesh. I believed sweet potatoes were yellow and yams were orange. The names tend to be used interchangeably and I prided myself on knowing the difference. Well, when I began my research for this article I learned I was mistaken. Botanically speaking, sweet potatoes and yams are unrelated and the root vegetables we call yams in the United States are usually a soft variety of sweet potato.
True yams are native to Africa and Asia. They are considerably starchier and drier than sweet potatoes and are typically only available in the U.S. at international markets.
There are over 400 varieties of sweet potatoes. Their skin color ranges from white to yellow, red, purple or brown. Their flesh color ranges from white to yellow, orange, or orange-red. The varieties fall within two categories:
- Firm sweet potatoes remain firm when cooked.
- Soft sweet potatoes become soft and moist when cooked.
Firm sweet potatoes were produced in the U.S. before soft varieties. When soft sweet potatoes were introduced, African slaves called them “yams” because they resembled the yams in Africa. The name was adopted commercially as a way to distinguish between firm and soft varieties.
Common Sweet Potato Varieties
- Garnet Yam – soft orange flesh with high moisture content is perfect for recipes that call for mashed or grated sweet potatoes.
- White Sweet Potato – very firm white or cream-colored flesh is ideal for baking or steaming.
- Oriental Sweet – firm white flesh is great for grilling or roasting.
Sweet potatoes are a good source of vitamins A, C and B-6, beta-carotene, potassium, manganese and fiber. As such, they are associated with a decreased risk of:
- Heart disease
They are also believed to promote:
- A healthy complexion
- Lower blood pressure
- Good digestion and regularity
- Good vision
Store uncooked sweet potatoes for up to two weeks in a cool, dry well ventilated area. Avoid storing uncooked sweet potatoes in the refrigerator.
When possible, leave skin intact. The sweet potato skin contributes a significant number of nutrients. Scrub potatoes under warm water with a vegetable brush and pat dry with a towel.
I usually bake my sweet potatoes before I add them to recipes, but some recipes require raw cuts. You may find this video demo helpful: How To Cut Sweet Potatoes. The trick is to have patience and a sharp knife.
Sweet potatoes can be baked, boiled, steamed, grilled, roasted, microwaved or cooked in a slow cooker. I like to keep cooked sweet potatoes in the fridge for quick meals. My favorite cooking methods are baking and slow cooking.
How To Bake Sweet Potatoes
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Prick the top of each sweet potato several times with a fork.
- Place potatoes on a baking sheet line with aluminum foil.
- Bake approximately 1 hour or until potatoes feel soft when squeezed gently with tongs or oven mitt.
How to Cook Sweet Potatoes in Slow Cooker
- Wash 4-6 medium sweet potatoes but do not pat dry.
- Place in slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until soft when squeezed gently with tongs or oven mitt.
- Slow Cooker Lentil Soup with Baked Sweet Potato
- Warm Teriyaki Quinoa Salad
- Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Soup
- Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers
great info here! i never really knew the difference between the 2....
Glad you found the information helpful Crista. As I think I mentioned, I always thought the firmer, lighter colored potatoes were true sweet potatoes and the softer, darker variety were yams. Imagine my surprise when I learned they were all sweet potatoes!
Very interesting! Thank you so much. Mystery solved.