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So just what is the difference between these two oft-confused vegetables?

It all started with a signature yam dish at an izakaya in Tokyo.  There was a debate about sweet potato vs. yams – are they actually different types of potato? Or are the names simply interchangeable for the same orange fleshed tuber? Bets were placed and I set off to find the answer. (little secret – even foodies are always learning 😉

Turns out that sweet potatoes and yams are in fact different types of potato. But there is a reason for our confusion – sweet potatoes have been marketed (improperly) as yams worldwide. No one really knows how it started, but it seems to have something to do with the fact that “yam” was considered a more universal name as sweet potatoes were more regionally associated with the Deep South of the US.

But actually, yams are tropical edible roots, usually of Latin American or Carribean origin. Contrary to what the name would suggest, yams are sweeter than sweet potatoes, with a drier starchy texture, a scaly bark-like skin and can grow up to 7 feet in length. Whereas, sweet potatoes are moist in texture, with a smooth skin and smaller in size,  more the size of “regular” potatoes. Sweet potatoes are unusually high in beta carotene whereas yams are not. They are not even distant relatives as far as plant family classifications are concerned.

So now you know…and I can announce the winner the of the yam vs. sweet potato bet!

(photo courtesy of North Carolina Sweet Potato Association)

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