If you are a food love, and a sweets lover, you have already tasted sweet potatoes for sure – or were they yams? It is hard to tell the difference, and it is hard for most people to understand what is the difference between one and the other and as such, they usually just end up calling them sweet potatoes, but there is, effectively, a difference between these two.
As a matter of fact, in our society, it is a lot more common to eat sweet potato rather than yam and, most of the time you probably thought you were eating yam, you were, in fact, eating sweet potato. It is hard to find a true yam out there, but so you won’t get fooled anymore, we are going to look at the differences between these two in this article.
The confusion between these two was caused due to the fact that a lot of people in the market and in recipes are, mistakenly, in belief that these two are the same thing and as such, they use the term interchangeably, ad ended up causing worldwide confusion regarding these two. The truth is, sweet potatoes and yams are two different things.
First things first, we need to understand that a yam is not a type of sweet potato, and a sweet potato is not a type of yam. These are two different root vegetables and they aren’t even related to each other. As a matter of fact, they don’t even have a lot in common.
Let’s look at what a true yam is so we stop mixing these two up. A true yam is native to both Africa and Asia, but the majority of the production nowadays comes from Africa and not from Asia. These can be pretty small in size, just like your average potato, and they can also be huge. As a matter of fact, some yams have even grown up to five feet (1,50m approximately).
Yams have a brown color and their flesh is purple, reddish or white. They have an elongated cylindrical shape and aren’t too easy to find out there. Your best chance to find a true yam is to go to a specialty market or to an international market where you can find food from different cultures and from different points in the world.
When compared in taste to sweet potatoes, yams are drier and starchier. They have a different type of feeling in your mouth and this might not look like much, but if you apply these differences to the recipes, you are certainly going to feel the difference between a sweet potato and a true yam.
The confusion now becomes clear. There is a wide variety of sweet potatoes out there, and all of these types of sweet potatoes are different among themselves. The skin color ranges from white to brown, and the color of the flesh ranges from white to orange-red (with pretty much everything in between). Their shape is also elongated, so they pretty much look similar to yams.
In the United States in most of the Western world, there are two major types of sweet potatoes grown that you can certainly find at your local grocery store: firm sweet potatoes and soft sweet potatoes. The color of the flesh and of the skin varies between these two, so they aren’t too hard to tell apart. Soft sweet potatoes have copper skin and orange interior, while firm sweet potatoes are pale inside and have golden skin.
The difference between these two doesn’t only come in looks. They are pretty different while cooking, and hence the name they have. Firm sweet potatoes are harder after they are cooked and won’t break too easily, while the soft sweet potatoes are pretty creamy and fluffy after cooked, and usually have more moisture in them.
At The Store
So since there is such a confusion, what are you really buying at the store whenever you purchase what you thought was a yam? The truth is, you are really buying a soft sweet potato, and it is extremely likely that you haven’t really tasted a yam in your life due to the rarity of its nature in the United States.
The first type of sweet potato to be produced in a large scale was the firm sweet potato, but when it was sold to the masses, it was never labeled as “firm sweet potato”; it was only labeled as a sweet potato. Then, in later years, the soft sweet potato came into play, and there was a need to differentiate the two of them in the market. As such, and to fulfill this need, the soft sweet potato was labeled a yam in order to differentiate it from the firm sweet potato.
As such, whenever you think you are buying yams, it is extremely likely that you are, in fact, buying soft sweet potatoes. Now that you know, it might be a great idea to go ahead and check your local international markets and purchase a yam, so that you can feel the true difference between these two in your recipes and while you cook them.
Soft sweet potatoes were labeled as yams and not as any other kind of sweet potatoes, because they do, in fact, resemble yams a lot and as such, people manage to get away with this little trick. All you need to do now is be careful with the labeling and identify true yams.