Nutrition

What Is The Difference Between A Sweet Potato And A Yam Anyway?

You might not be aware of it, but yams and sweet potatoes are two very different vegetables! Here’s the difference between these two lookalikes…

Sweet potatoes and yams are popular health foods and make great additions to many recipes. They look similar, but are they? Food packaging may have you thinking that the two are interchangeable, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Here’s your go-to guide to sweet potatoes and yams, and the differences between them.

1. Difference between sweet potatoes and yams

Sweet potatoes and yams both have similar exteriors. They both have a tougher looking skin than a regular potato. In sweet potatoes, this skin has a reddish hue, while in yams it is more of a mid to dark brown color. Yams can also grow much larger than sweet potatoes, and it is not uncommon for a yam to reach 5ft in length.

Inside, sweet potatoes are orange while yams have a dry white interior. This may seem confusing, as often sweet potatoes are marketed as yams. If you look at the label, however, the title of sweet potato should be alongside the word yam.

Their origins are different, too. Sweet potatoes were initially grown in central and South America. Yams, on the other hand, were originally grown in Africa.

This is often reflected in traditional recipes from those areas. The yam is much more prevalent in African and Caribbean cuisine. Meanwhile, the sweet potato can be found in many dishes from Mexico and beyond.

Sweet potatoes are generally more widely available in mainstream stores. If you are struggling to find yams, try an African or  Caribbean specialist store.

2. Is there a difference in nutritional value?

Firstly, it’s important to note that both foods are healthy and would be a beneficial addition to any diet. However, there are some differences.

Nutritionally, sweet potato packs a far bigger punch than yams. Sweet potatoes have a higher fiber content, and a large sweet potato will provide your entire day’s worth of vitamin A. This is great news for both your digestion and your skin. Despite their sweet taste, sweet potatoes actually contain fewer calories than a regular potato, and they’re fat-free.

Sweet potatoes are also high in carotenoids, B5, B6 and thiamin. This makes this vegetable a cancer-fighting and antioxidant powerhouse. It also ensures that you maintain a healthy nervous system. For gym fans, it also promoted good cardiovascular performance in the body. So next time you are in training for a sport, sweet potatoes help your heart reach your goals. Sweet potatoes, as the name suggests, are a source of natural sugar. This will give you a powerful energy boost and are a pre-workout snack that will particularly suit HIIT workouts.

Yams are great as a healing and immune boosting food. They are high in vitamin C, so they are very useful to cook with when there are viruses going around. Yams are also low GI and are made up of complex carbohydrates and fiber. This makes them very filling and satisfying. Cooking with yams will ensure your dishes don’t create a spike and crash in blood sugar. This makes them a great choice for when you are training for a long period of time or practicing an endurance sport.

Copper is also present in yams, and this promotes the production of healthy red blood cells in the body. This, in turn, helps you as you work out, to oxygenate and repair following some hard work at the gym.

Yams have been used in traditional medicines due to their healing properties. They provide the body with allantoin, which encourages the body to repair and mend. This makes them a good food to have when you are working on building a lot of muscle and pushing your workout, as it could contribute to reducing post-workout aching.

It is essential to peel and cook yams before consuming them as they may contain toxins. This risk is not present in sweet potatoes, although they are too hard to be eaten raw.

3. Do they taste different?

Yes. As the name suggests, sweet potatoes are sweet in flavor. They are a versatile food, and can be boiled, baked or fried. They can be served as an alternative to mashed or baked potato, as well as being included in stews and soups.

Yams are drier and have more of a starchy texture than sweet potato. They are traditionally served boiled or dried into a powder to add to porridge. They can also be grilled or baked.

There are plenty of recipes online to make the most of sweet potatoes and yams. These range from traditional recipes from their origin region, to fusion and new ways of serving them. Watch out that your recipes do mean true yams and not sweet potatoes (and vice versa).
Experiment and find what suits your taste the most. Both work as a good thickener for sauces and soups, with sweet potato adding natural sweetness and yams being more savoury.

4. Take home message

Yams and sweet potatoes are certainly not the same. Despite mislabelling in stores, you can now confidently select the correct vegetable for your needs. These vegetables are versatile and beneficial, so they make a great addition to many meal prep dishes.

Looking to bake, mash or roast?

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Faye Reid

Faye Reid

Writer and expert

Faye has an MSc in Sport Physiology and Nutrition, and puts her passion into practice as goal attack for her netball team, and in competitive event riding. She enjoys a pun, and in her spare time loves dog walking and eating out.


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