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Sweet Potato Vs. Yam: Is There A Difference?

Sweet potatoes are commonly known as yams in North America. On the other hand, in African and Asian countries, yam is an entirely different vegetable. Both grow underground and share similar nutritional properties. However, this is where the resemblance ends. Both vegetables have distinct scientific ancestry, appearance, taste, and health benefits. This article attempts to clear the confusion between yams and sweet potatoes. Keep reading to learn their benefits, key differences, nutrition, risks, and recipes.

What Are Sweet Potatoes?

What-Are-Sweet-Potatoes

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Sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) usually refers to the plant’s sweet, starchy, tuberous roots. It is native to tropical America and all parts, including roots, leaves, and stems, are nutritious (1).

Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, says, “In the US, when we think of sweet potatoes vs. yams – they are both sweet potatoes. Yams are not what most Americans think they are.”

This confusion all began due to a marketing strategy, she said.

The Porto Rico cultivar, a variety of sweet potatoes with light orange-colored flesh, was promoted extensively as yams in the 1960s. The potato growers and shippers did that to distinguish this variety from the conventional dry white-flesh varieties of potatoes. Yams are different starchy root vegetables from the Dioscorea genus. Scroll down to learn in detail.

What Are Yams?

What-Are-Yams

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Maples says, “True yams are starchy root vegetables with a tough skin and white flesh. They are very difficult to peel.” Yams are native to Africa and were called nyami. They are also found in parts of Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Oceania. Yam is exported from Africa to the US (and other countries).

Since they are called sweet potatoes in the US, the USDA requires the label to include both the terms “yam” and “sweet potato.” The plant is used in many cuisines for its starch content (2), (3). The next sections compare the nutritional and other aspects of yams and sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potato Vs. Yam: Key Comparisons

Key Differences

Yams

Sweet Potatoes

Scientific Classification

Belong to Dioscoreaceae or yam family (1)

Belong to Convolvulaceae or morning glory family and are true roots (1)

Edible Part

The tuber (thickened part of the stem)

The roots

Taste

Neutral flavor

Sweet

External Appearance

Rough and textured brown skin, are long and cylindrical with some toes

Thin reddish-brown skin, are short, blocky, and have tapered ends

Color

Pale white flesh

May have orange or purple flesh (depending on the variety)

Sweet Potato Vs. Yam: Nutritional Profiles

A hundred grams of sweet potato and yam contains (4), (5):

Nutrient

Sweet Potato

Yam

Calories

91 kcal

118 kcal

Proteins

1.65 g

1.53 g

Carbohydrates

21.1 g

27.9 g

Total lipids (Fat)

0.2 g

0.17 g

Dietary fiber

1.8 g

4.1 g

Sodium

53 mg

9 mg

Potassium

312 mg

816 mg

Phosphorus

49 mg

55 mg

Magnesium

22 mg

21 mg

Calcium

22 mg

17 mg

Vitamin C

26.4 mg

17.1 mg

Both seem to be similar in nutrition. However, experts explain the differences between them.

Anthony Puopolo, MD, Chief Medical Officer at RexMD, remarks, “In general, sweet potatoes tend to be lower in calories than yams, containing slightly more water and slightly more protein than yams. Yams, however, are higher in manganese and potassium, making them better options for those with anemia or iron deficiencies.”

Dr. Sandra El Hajj, a naturopathic medical doctor and Food Science expert, explains, “Sweet potatoes are very rich in vitamin A and provide your body with more than its daily needs, while yams barely have 1% of your daily needs of this vitamin.”

She adds, “However, yams contain higher amounts of potassium and manganese and are very low in sugar, which makes them better protection for your heart, growth, and metabolism as well as great options for you if you are diabetic. They have a low glycemic index compared to sweet potatoes, which do not cause blood sugar spikes.”

Depending on their nutrient content, yams and sweet potatoes contribute to your overall health in many ways. Let’s understand in detail.

Potential Health Benefits Of Sweet Potato And Yam

1. Rich In Antioxidants

The purple and orange colors of the sweet potatoes are due to beta-carotene, an antioxidant. The human body converts it into vitamin A, which is crucial for maintaining the body functions, vision, and healthy organs (1).

Several varieties of wild yams contain phenols, flavonoids, and other antioxidants. They can prevent damage caused by harmful free radicals and help prevent health conditions and inflammation (6).

2. May Have Antimicrobial Effects

Studies have found that purple and yellow sweet potatoes are active against gram-positive bacteria like Streptococcus faecalis (found in the human intestine). Wild yams are effective against both gram-positive and negative bacteria, especially Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus mutans. They also have antifungal effects against pathogenic fungi (7), (8).

3. May Improve Menopausal Symptoms

Yams are traditionally used for improving postmenopausal symptoms. A study on postmenopausal women found that consuming yam improved the status of antioxidants, sex hormones, and lipids. Researchers concluded that all these effects might also reduce the risk of breast cancer and cardiovascular conditions in postmenopausal women (9).

You can consume sweet potatoes and yams in many different ways. Here are a few recipes you may try.

Recipes To Try With Sweet Potatoes And Yams

Sweet Potato Recipes

1. Spicy Baked Sweet Potato

What You Need

  •  2 large sweet potatoes
  •  1 ½ teaspoons of paprika
  •  1 teaspoon of brown sugar
  •  ¼ teaspoon of black pepper
  •  ¼ teaspoon of onion powder
  •  ¼ teaspoon of dried thyme
  •  ¼ teaspoon of dried rosemary
  •  ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder
  •  ⅛ teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  •  1 ½ teaspoons of olive oil

How To Prepare

  1.  Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2.  Mix all the spices and brown sugar in a small bowl.
  3.  Halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise and drizzle olive oil on each slice.
  4.  Sprinkle the seasoning mix over each half. Put them on a baking sheet.
  5.  Bake for an hour.

2. Sweet Potato Pie

What You Need

  •  1 unbaked pie crust
  •  2 cups of sweet potatoes (cooked and mashed)
  •  2 tablespoons of butter (softened)
  •  2 eggs (beaten)
  •  1 cup of white sugar
  •  1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour
  •  ½ cup of buttermilk
  •  ¼ teaspoon of baking soda
  •  1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
  •  ½ teaspoon of salt

How To Prepare

  1.  Preheat the oven to 370°F.
  2.  Mix sweet potatoes, butter, and eggs.
  3.  Mix sugar, flour, and salt in a separate bowl. Season with spices if desired. Mix it with the mashed potatoes.
  4.  Combine buttermilk, baking soda, vanilla extract, and the sweet potato mixture.
  5.  Pour the filling into the pie crust.
  6.  Bake for an hour until the center is set.

Yam Recipes

1. Yam Balls

What You Need

  •  1 yam tuber (peeled and cubed)
  •  1 can of sardine (drained)
  •  2 tablespoons of hot sauce
  •  3 tablespoons of spring onions (chopped)
  •  2 teaspoons of chili flakes
  •  1 teaspoon of garlic powder
  •  1 teaspoon of fresh parsley
  •  2 medium eggs
  •  2 cups of dried breadcrumbs
  •  3 tablespoons of butter (softened)
  •  2 cups of vegetable oil
  •  Salt, as needed

How To Prepare

  1.  Boil the yam pieces until soft and tender.
  2.  Drain the water, add butter, and mash until smooth.
  3.  Add parsley, chopped spring onions, hot sauce, chili flakes, and garlic powder to the mashed yam. Add sardine and mix well.
  4.  Separate the egg yolks from the whites and mix with the mashed yam.
  5.  Whip the reserved egg whites until smooth.
  6.  Heat vegetable oil in a shallow pan on medium-high heat.
  7.  Shape mashed yam into balls, dip into the egg whites and coat with bread crumbs.
  8.  Fry the yam balls until golden brown. Remove and drain on a kitchen towel.
  9.  Serve immediately or let it cool.

2. Yam Porridge

What You Need

  •  ½ of the yam tuber
  •  1 red bell pepper
  •  2 red chilies
  •  1 onion (chopped)
  •  ½ cup of vegetable oil
  •  1 tablespoon of beef seasoning powder
  •  1 medium-sized mackerel fish (cleaned)
  •  2 handfuls of spinach
  •  Salt, as needed

How To Prepare

  1.  Peel and chop the yam. Rinse and soak the pieces in cold water for 30 minutes.
  2.  Chop and blend the red bell pepper, red chili, and onions with water and set aside.
  3.  Season the fish with salt and beef seasoning. Boil it for about 5 minutes; debone and flake the fish.
  4.  Cook the yam chunks in the pepper mixture over medium heat. Add salt, beef seasoning, and water. Cover and cook until tender.
  5.  Gently mash the yam chunks with the back of a wooden spatula.
  6.  Fry onions in another pan until translucent. Add them to the yam mixture.
  7.  After 1-2 minutes, stir in the flaked fish and combine with the yam.
  8.  Add chopped spinach and cook for another two minutes. Once done, turn off the heat and serve.

You can consume both yams and sweet potatoes. However, if you have to choose between them, here’s what experts have to say.

Sweet Potatoes Vs. Yams: Which One To Include In Your Diet?

Kristin Gillespie, MS, RD, LD, comments, “Both yams and sweet potatoes can be incorporated into your diet. But if you’re looking to only add one, sweet potatoes are probably the best bet. Not only are they marginally more nutritious, they have a sweeter taste which most people would prefer and are more widely available in the US.”

Sweet potatoes have the edge over yams. Although both are safe, you may want to follow certain precautions due to their oxalate levels.

Possible Side Effects Of Sweet Potatoes And Yams

Elle Wittneben, RD, CSOWM, LDN, advises, “Calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stones. Oxalates are present in almost all plant-based foods, so they are nearly impossible to avoid. However, some foods are higher in oxalates than others.”

She notes, “Sweet potatoes contain about 14 mg of oxalate per half cup, and yams contain about 40 mg of oxalate per half-cup. Therefore, sweet potatoes would be considered the better option for those with calcium-oxalate kidney stones.”

The Final Verdict

Sweet potatoes are often confused with yams due to their similar appearance. Each has its own set of health benefits, and both have almost similar nutritional profiles. However, sweet potatoes taste better than yams and are slightly more nutritious. This, including other factors like less chance of side effects and availability, give sweet potatoes the upper hand against yams.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

What are the different types of yams?

Several varieties of yams are found in the African, Asian, and American continents. Some of them include purple yam, Chinese yam, Indian yam, and wild yam.

What is a good replacement for sweet potatoes?

Yam and cassava are good replacements for sweet potatoes.

Are sweet potatoes healthier than regular potatoes?

Depends. They are nutritionally similar. However, potatoes are rich in potassium, while sweet potatoes are good sources of vitamin A.

Which one is nutritious: carrots or sweet potatoes?

Carrots are more nutritious than sweet potatoes. Both are good sources of vitamin A, dietary fiber, and potassium. However, carrots have fewer calories and carbohydrates than sweet potatoes.

Do sweet potatoes have a lot of sugar?

No. While sweet potatoes have a higher sugar content than regular potatoes, it is not alarming.

Is it OK to eat sweet potatoes with sprouts?

Yes. You can eat sweet potatoes with sprouts.

Is it safe to eat sweet potatoes with black spots?

Yes. Black spots are bruisings on sweet potatoes. However, discard them if they show signs of rotting.

Is a sweet potato bad if it has holes?

Depends. While a few holes are normal, too many holes may indicate a wireworm infection.

Is it better to bake or boil yams?

Boiling the yams helps increase nutrient availability and lowers spikes in blood sugar levels.

Sources

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Sweet Potato: A Review of its Past Present and Future Role in Human Nutrition
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1043452606520017
  2. Yams
    https://agclass.nal.usda.gov/mtwdk.exe?k=default&l=60&s=5&t=2&w=33776
  3. The Dioscorea Genus (Yam)—An Appraisal of Nutritional and Therapeutic Potentials
    https://www.mdpi.com/2304-8158/9/9/1304/htm
  4. Sweet potato canned vacuum pack FoodData Central
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/168485/nutrients
  5. Yam raw FoodData Central
    https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/170071/nutrients
  6. Natural antioxidant potential of selected underutilized wild yams (Dioscorea spp.) for health benefit
    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13197-020-04470-x
  7. Characteristics of Antioxidative and Antimicrobial Activities of Various Cultivars of Sweet Potato
    https://www.koreascience.or.kr/article/JAKO199903042097787.page
  8. Potential of Neglected and Underutilized Yams (Dioscorea spp.) for Improving Nutritional Security and Health Benefits
    https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2020.00496/full
  9. Estrogenic effect of yam ingestion in healthy postmenopausal women
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16093400/

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