Yams vs sweet potatoes: here's a guide that covers the similarities, differences, and the best ways to cook both of these tasty root vegetables! Don't worry if you don't know the differences, many people think that yams and sweet potatoes are the same vegetables. Keep reading to know how to tell them apart and how to cook them properly!
Differences & Similarities Of Yams & Sweet Potatoes
In case you weren't aware, yams and sweet potatoes are not the same vegetables! It is common to see the terms "sweet potato" and "yam" to be used interchangeably here in the United States (especially in grocery stores), although they actually look, feel, and taste completely different.
These tuber vegetables come from different plant families and originate from different parts of the world! Here are all of their similarities, differences, and best ways to cook both sweet potatoes and yams.
What Is A Yam
Yams are unground tuber vegetables related to the lily plant family. They contain starchy, unsweet flesh and are similar in texture to Russet potatoes. Yams tend to be larger in size than standard potatoes and can grow up to 6 feet long! They originated in African and Asian countries and are primarily used in Asian, Latin, Caribbean, and West African cuisines.
Yams have rough, scaly, and bark-like skin that is difficult to peel. They tend to have rounded ends and an interior flesh that is either white, yellow, purple, or red. There are around 500 varieties of yams including Japanese Mountain, tropical, Filipino purple (Ube), Okinawan, Chinese, white and gold Guinea, and many more!
Most yams that are in America are actually orange flesh sweet potatoes. So don't get confused when you see canned "yams" or a mislabeled sweet potato at the grocery store. You can find actual yams at African and Asian specialty markets.
- Japanese Mountain
- Air potatoes
- White Guinea
- Yellow Guinea
Best Way To Cook Yams
Yams are typically boiled, roasted, pounded, or pan-fried and served with hearty meats. Unless you plan on roasting yams, you will need to remove the skin first before cooking. The skin is very coarse and a regular potato skin peeler will not do the job, you will need to use a sharp knife.
Boiling yams is one of the more popular methods to cook them and they come out more crumbly, starchy, and dense than regular potatoes. Yams are versatile and can be made into a number of dishes, hence why they are a staple in many countries.
What Is A Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are root vegetables related to the morning glory plant family and are known to be mildly sweet and starchy, with a creamy texture. They typically have a longer length and a thicker width compared to standard potatoes, and also have tapered ends instead of round. Sweet potatoes are cooked in worldwide cuisines and originate from Central and South America.
Sweet potatoes have an orange-reddish smooth skin that is easy to peel and their flesh color ranges from white, yellow-orange, orange, red, and purple. There are over 6000 varieties worldwide and about 100 types to choose from in the United States.
Sweet Potato Varieties
- Red Garnet
- Japanese White
Best Way To Cook Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes can be boiled, microwaved, baked, roasted, mashed, pan-fried, or roasted! Unlike yams, the skin on a sweet potato is not necessary to peel before cooking unless you are not a fan of eating potato skins.
Sweet potatoes are a popular item on Thanksgiving menus, especially when made into a casserole and topped with mini marshmallows.
Yams and sweet potatoes have many differences, they are actually quite opposite of each other. Sweet potatoes tend to be on the sweeter side and yams have a mild earthy taste. Yams have toxic and rough skin that is more difficult to peel, while sweet potato skin is edible, smooth, and easy to peel.
Sweet potatoes have more tapered ends while yams have rounded ends. Yams also have a higher carbohydrate content and are higher in starch than sweet potatoes. Lastly, yams can grow extremely large in size and sweet potatoes are more similar in size to common potatoes.
Both of these vegetables are extremely versatile and can be prepared in many ways to make different dishes. Yams and sweet potatoes have a variety of flesh colors ranging from white to purple. Lastly, they are both considered root vegetables meaning underground plant parts consumed by humans.
Can Yams & Sweet Potatoes Be Used Interchangeably
Sweet potatoes and real yams cannot be used interchangeably due to their huge difference in taste and texture. Yams are dry and starchy, while sweet potatoes are sweet and moist.
😋 Tasty Yam & Sweet Potato Recipes
- Slow Cooker Candied Yams - A classic holiday candied yam dish perfect for making on Thanksgiving or for any holiday party!
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes & Onions - Roasted sweet potatoes make an excellent and versatile side dish!
- Mashed Sweet Potatoes - These simple mashed sweet potatoes are creamy, rich, and incredibly irresistible.
- Baked Sweet Potatoes - Make these deliciously sweet and savory baked potatoes with only 4 ingredients!
- Pan-Fried Sweet Potatoes - Pan-fried sweet potatoes on the stovetop are simple to make and ready in only 10 minutes!
- Air Fryer Sweet Potato Fries - Sweet potato fries made in the Air Fryer are quick and easy for any weeknight side!
I hope this article on yams vs sweet potatoes clears up any confusion about the similarities and differences between these two root vegetables. Leave a comment down below and let me know which one you are wanting to make!
Yams vs Sweet Potatoes: Mashed Sweet Potatoes (+How To Tell Them Apart!)
- 6 medium sweet potatoes (peeled and cubed)
- ½ cup heavy cream (at room temperature)
- ½ cup butter (softened, at room temperature)
- 1 pinch each, salt & pepper (to taste)
- ¼ cup honey (optional - or use maple syrup or brown sugar - *see note)
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves (optional)
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg (optional)
- To get started, fill a large pot with water, add salt, and bring it to a boil.
- While you are waiting for the water to boil, you can prepare your sweet potatoes by peeling them and cutting them into cubes. Make sure they are close to the same size for even cooking (*see note).6 medium sweet potatoes
- Once boiling, add in the sweet potatoes, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until fork-tender (about 20-30 minutes). Then drain the potatoes and return them to your pot or transfer them to a clean bowl.
- Use a potato masher, fork, or potato ricer to begin mashing your sweet potatoes (*see note). Slowly add in your room temperature cream and butter until you have reached your desired consistency.½ cup heavy cream, ½ cup butter
- Then, add in the salt & pepper as well as the optional honey (or syrup/brown sugar), cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Stir gently to combine until the butter is completely melted and all of the ingredients are well incorporated.1 pinch each, salt & pepper, ¼ cup honey, ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, ⅛ teaspoon ground cloves, ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- Once combined, serve immediately.
- Another option for cooking these sweet potatoes is to roast them, whole, in the oven and then scoop out the insides! This helps to add a naturally extra rich flavor.
- If you need to make these in a pinch, you can also cook the potatoes in the microwave! Mine typically take around 5-8 minutes on high power.
- Instead of the honey, you could also use a combination of ⅛ cup of maple syrup and ⅛ cup of brown sugar!
- If you are worried about your mashed sweet potatoes being too sweet for your liking, start by adding only half of the honey and then adjust it to your taste.
- To really bring out the holiday flavors, you can substitute the spices for ½ of a teaspoon of some tasty pumpkin pie spice!
- You can leave these mashed sweet potatoes as chunky or creamy as you like! I prefer to use a potato masher to mash my potatoes, but you can use a fork or potato ricer if you like. However, never put potatoes into a blender or food processor because it will make them gummy and gluey!
- To store: Place any leftovers into an airtight container and keep it in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- To freeze: Once completely cooled, store your mashed sweet potatoes in single-size portions in a freeze-safe container for up to 6 months. When ready to use, thaw overnight in the fridge.
- To reheat: You can use short bursts of 20 seconds in the microwave or reheat them over medium-low heat in a small pot on the stove to reheat your potatoes.
Angela is an at home chef that developed a passion for all things cooking and baking at a young age in her Grandma's kitchen. After many years in the food service industry, she now enjoys sharing all of her family favorite recipes and creating tasty dinner and amazing dessert recipes here at Bake It With Love!