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Yams: Kitchen Basics

Yam roots
Yam roots
Yam roots

A yam and a sweet potato are not the same vegetables, but they can be substituted for one another in most recipes.

The yam has more natural sugar and is, therefore, sweeter than the sweet potato and its flesh is moister than the sweet potato.

Yams–depending upon variety—can have a flesh that is white, yellow, purple or pink and a skin that is off-white to dark brown. The sweet potato usually has a bright orange flesh and a thick, dark orange skin.

Yams and sweet potatoes are most often confused simply because canned sweet potatoes—especially in the United States–are often labeled yams.

How to Choose Yams

  • Select yams that are unblemished with tight skins.

Yam Serving Suggestions

  • Cook small yams in their skins. Large yams can be washed, peeled, and blanched for 10-20 minutes in boiling salted water. Then use them just as you would a potato or sweet potato.
Colocasia--yam plant
Colocasia–yam plant

Yams and Sweet Potatoes

  • The yam is an African native of the Dioscorea family.
  • The sweet potato is a native of the Americas and comes from the Convolvulaceae family.

Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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