Sweet potatoes and yams are often marketed interchangeably, probably because they have a similar appearance. However, yams and sweet potatoes are very different root vegetables. They belong to different plant families and are only distantly related.
Yams have dark and sometimes rough skin. The flesh is whiter in shade and drier than sweet potatoes. Most chefs agree that yams require more oil, cream, or butter when cooked. They are generally more starchy than sweet potatoes. An average serving of yams provides about 30% of your daily dose of Vitamin C and about 800 mg of potassium. Size can vary from that of a small potato to up to 5 feet and 130 pounds! In the US, true yams can be tough to find, but they originate in Africa and Asia.
Sweet potatoes have a lighter skin, tapered ends, and a light yellow to deep orange flesh. Because they are naturally sweet (as the name suggests!), you don’t need to add as much flavoring or fat to enjoy them. An average serving of sweet potatoes will give you more than three times the content of Vitamin A needed in your daily diet, plus 330 mg of potassium. Sweet potatoes have 20% fewer calories than yams. They are thought to originate in Central or South America, but North Carolina is currently the largest producer.
Why all the confusion: African slaves who came to the US called the local sweet potato “nyami,” which translates to “yam” in English. This is because it reminded them of true yams, a food staple they knew in Africa.
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