No, sweet potatoes and yams are not the same thing. And we’re sorry to break it to you, but you’ve probably never eaten an actual yam.
🍠 Sweet potatoes aren’t a type of yam either. They’re both tuberous root vegetables but don’t have much else in common.
🍠 Yams have tough outer skin that’s rough, dark brown, and almost looks like tree bark. They’re African in origin.
🍠 Yams usually have white insides and are more similar to white russet potatoes in texture and flavor. They aren’t sweet and have a more earthy flavor.
🍠 Sweet potatoes can actually be white, yellow, or orange on the inside. Their outer skin is much smoother than yams and can be colored white, red, purple, or brown.
🍠 You’re highly unlikely to find real yams in most US grocery stores as they’re typically only used in African or Caribbean cuisine. Typically when someone is talking about yams, they’re referring to the variety of sweet potato that has red/purple skin and orange insides.
🍠 The confusion in naming stems from the 1930s when Louisiana farmers sold their orange variety of sweet potatoes as “yams” (borrowed from the African name for yams, “nyami”) to differentiate them from white varieties of sweet potatoes also on the market. This practice has stuck around ever since.
🍠 Canned “yams” are common but if you look on the front label you’ll see that it says “cut sweet potatoes in syrup” in the same area.
🍠 So if you’re trying to make candied yams or sweet potato pie this year, rest assured what you’re buying in the store is the right thing - an orange sweet potato that will cook up soft, bright, and delicious!