Is It A Yam Or Sweet Potato?

November 22, 2016

© Elena Schweitzer | Dreamstime

 Thanksgiving dinner menus are nearly complete and most will contain some sort of sweet potato or yam side dish. But is a sweet potatoes the same as a yam?  Well yes and no.  Hopefully a side track discussion you can bring up when someone at the table begins to talk about politics, the truth is there is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams.  In fact they are completely unrelated vegetables but you'd have a hard time picking them apart in the grocery store and it all comes down to marketing.  There are about 6,500 varieties of sweet potatoes and they come in all sorts of colors such as white, purple, crème and the most familiar color of orange.  However the orange variety was introduced to Americans shoppers in the 1940s and 1950s, there was no way to market the new orange-colored “must-have” variety from the boring white sweet potato we were used to, so someone in marketing decided to give the orange -colored spuds a new name, yam, and thus the American version of yam was born and the name stuck to this day. Ironically, the real yam is white, grows in Africa, is starchier and not sweet at all.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that anything labeled "yam" that is not a true yam should always accompanied by the words "sweet potato" and much like squash disguised as canned pumpkin, the truth is found in the fine print.


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