It may come as quite a surprise, but yams are very rare in the U.S.—it’s sweet potatoes that we’re eating! The two starchy vegetables both grow underground, but they are actually from two different botanical families, and they have different tastes and textures. True yams are native to Africa and Asia and are also grown widely in the Caribbean. They often have dark-colored skin with white inner flesh and can grow up to five feet long. Sweet potatoes, on the other hand, are grown widely throughout the U.S. Two main varieties are grown most often – one being the softer, sweeter and orange-colored sweet potato we all recognize, and the other being the firmer, drier and white-, yellow- or purple-fleshed sweet potato often referred to as a “yam.” This variety was nicknamed “yam” when it was first introduced to the American market because of its texture and color similarities to the true yam and to distinguish it from the already-available orange sweet potatoes. Although inaccurate, this term has stuck among consumers. So now you know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams—and you can make sure your candied yams are properly labeled as candied sweet potatoes this Thanksgiving!
For some yummy—and nutritious!—sweet potato recipes, visit the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission’s website.