We’ve all heard it. Sometimes people refer to ‘these’ as sweet potatoes, sometimes they refer to them as yams? So what are you eating? And does it really matter? Let’s look into this!

There is confusion when it comes to deciphering between the two. The reality is, what you have been calling a yam, is likely a sweet potato. And in all actuality, you may have never tasted a yam before! 

First, let’s make one thing clear. Sweet potatoes are not yams and yams are not sweet potatoes. They are both root vegetables, but they are not related and actually don’t have a lot in common!

Yams:  These starchy, root vegetables are native to Africa and Asia. They can be small in size or as big as five feet long! WHOA! Yams have bark-like skin and either blackish or brownish skin. The flesh can range from white to  purplish or reddish. Yams also tend to be drier too. Don’t you love these technical terms? 

Sweet Potato: There are numerous varieties of sweet potatoes and definitely more prominent to most of us in America, specifically Nebraska. Skin color can range from white and yellow to red, purple and brown. The flesh can be white, yellow, orange or even orange-red. Most of us think of the ones that have an orange flesh. These vegetables have an elongated shape with tapered ends.

So, if true yams aren’t very common in the United States, here’s the big question: why do we think we are eating yams?

There are actually two different types of sweet potatoes. Firm or soft. The firm variety was the first to be produced in the US. When soft sweet potatoes were produced commercially, there needed to be a way to differentiate between the two. Because the “soft” sweet potatoes somewhat resembled true yams, the name was chosen and became what you see labeled as “yams” in most U.S. grocery stores. Below is the common U.S. grocery store labeling. 

Common U.S. Grocery Store Labeling

  • Yam — Soft sweet potato with a copper skin and deep orange flesh.
  • Sweet potato — Firm sweet potato with golden skin and lighter flesh.

Long story short, unless you are a world traveler, you likely have only tried sweet potatoes. This is not a bad thing, they are healthy and delicious. Enjoy the recipe below!

Maple Roasted Sweet Potatoes

All You Need:

2 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces

1/3 cup 100% pure maple syrup

2 Tbsp Butter, melted

1 Tbsp Lemon Juice

½ tsp salt

Fresh pepper to taste


All You Do:

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Arrange sweet potatoes in an even layer in a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish. Combine maple syrup, butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper in small bowl. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes; toss to coat.
  3. Cover and bake the sweet potatoes for 15 minutes. Uncover, stir and cook, stirring every 15 minutes, until tender and starting to brown, 45 to 50 minutes more.

To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day. Just before serving, reheat at 350°F until hot, about 15 minutes.

Recipe Source: Hy-Vee, Inc.

Yam vs Sweet Potato Source: www.ncsweetpotatoes.com and www.thekitchn.com

Kaiti George

Kaiti George is a Registered Dietitian and fitness enthusiast with over 10 years of experience in both fields. She is a Registered Dietitian at Hy-Vee in Kearney and also teaches a variety of group exercise classes at the Kearney YMCA. Kaiti is the proud mom of twins, Jenna and Collin. Kaiti is a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is a Licensed Medical Nutrition therapist through the State of Nebraska. She and her husband Tom live in Kearney with their two dogs, Joe and Murphy. Kaiti prides herself on living an active healthy lifestyle and hopes to give readers great tips and recipes to do the same!