|North Carolina SweetPotato Commission|
Sweetpotatoes are sweet, orange-colored root vegetables and, in fact, all so-called “yams” are sweetpotatoes. Most people think that long, red-skinned sweetpotatoes are yams, but they really are just one of many varieties of sweetpotatoes.
A true yam is a starchy edible root and is generally imported to America from the Caribbean. It is rough and scaly and very low in beta carotene. Depending on the variety, sweetpotato flesh can vary from white to orange and even purple.
The orange-fleshed variety was introduced to the United States several decades ago. In order to distinguish it from the white variety everyone was accustomed to, producers and shippers chose the English form of the African word “nyami” and labeled them “yams.” Today the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires labels with the term “yam” to be accompanied by the term “sweetpotato.” Even so, most people still think of sweetpotatoes as yams regardless of their true identity.
Sweetpotatoes are almost always sweeter than yams which are starchier and more potato-like and usually not very sweet. In the US most sweetpotatoes are one of four appearances:
* Rose color skin with orange flesh
* Pale copper/tan skin with white flesh
* Red skin, dry white flesh
* Purple skin and flesh
All are more slender than a potato and have tapered ends; however each of these does have a different flavor. Some yams are the size and shape of small potatoes while others can grow up to five feet in length and weigh over 100 pounds! Skins may be dark brown or light pink and the insides white, yellow, purple or pink.
Sweetpotaotes are very nutritious and have more sugar, protein, calcium, iron, sodium, vitamin A, beta-carotene, and water than yams do.
Yams are also very nutritious and they have more fat, carbs, fiber, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and vitamin E than sweetpotatoes. Today, yams are grown around the world, but West Africa grows 95 percent of them.