Sweet Potato Or Yam

Several decades ago, when orange-fleshed sweet potatoes were introduced in the southern United States, producers and shippers desired to distinguish them from the more traditional, white-fleshed types. The African word nyami, referring to the starchy, edible root of the Dioscorea genus of plants, was adopted in its English form, yam. Yams in the U.S. are actually sweetpotatoes with relatively moist texture and orange flesh. Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the label “yam” always be accompanied by “sweetpotato.” The following information outlines several differences between sweetpotatoes and yams.

Factor---------------------Sweetpotato--------------------Yam

Origin---------------Tropical America (Peru, Ecuador)----West Africa, Asia

Historical beginning---------Prehistoric--------------------50,000 BC

Edible storage organ---------Storage root------------------Tuber

Appearance-----------Smooth, with thin skin-------------Rough, scaly

Shape-----short, blocky, tapered ends-----long, cylindrical, some with “toes”

Taste-----------------------Sweet*-----------------------Starchy

Availability---------------Grown in USA-------------Imported from Caribbean

  • Characteristic of most sweetpotato varieties grown in the U.S.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON SWEET POTATOES
Sweet potatoes are not really potatoes. They are tropical tubers from the morning glory family. A native of central and South America, sweet potatoes were a dietary staple of the Aztecs in Mexico and the Incas of Peru. Remains of sweet potatoes that are 10,000 to 20,000 years old have been found in caves in Peru. Christopher Columbus introduced sweet potatoes to Europe, and later explorers introduced them to Asia.

WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SWEET POTATOES AND YAMS?
Most folks think sweet potatoes and yams are the same thing, but they are quite different. Sweet potatoes are part of the Morning Glory family and are considered storage roots (like carrots) while yams are from the Yam family and are tubers (like potatoes). Sweet potatoes have smooth, thin skin while yams have rough, scaly skin. Sweet potatoes are usually the size of regular white potatoes while yams can grow as long as 7 feet and can weight up to 150 pounds! Sweet potatoes are grown in the United States, mostly in southern states, while yams are grown in the Caribbean. The most important difference between sweet potatoes and yams is that sweet potatoes are rich in vitamin A while yams contain no vitamin A.

WHERE DO SWEET POTATOES GROW?
Major suppliers of sweet potatoes include China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Uganda. Sweet potatoes rank 10th in U.S. vegetable production. North Carolina, Louisiana, California and Georgia are the major growing states.