Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is there a difference between a Yam and a Sweet Potato?

Question: Hello Monique...Please tell me there is a difference in a Yam and a Sweet Potato...I believe there is. Am I right??? Thanks Syl
Answer: Yes, you are absolutely right. They are not the same. While yams and sweet potatoes are similar in that they grow underground and have orange flesh, they are botanically different.

Yams are tropical vines of the genus Dioscorea and have a more reddish flesh. They are very large, starchy, edible tuberous roots that can grow two to three feet long and weigh as much as 80 pounds. They grow in tropical/subtropical countries like West Africa and New Guinea, and need eight to ten months of warm weather to mature.

Sweet potatoes are from the genus Ipomoea Batatas. They are much smaller tubers than yams, have orange-colored flesh and are tropical American vines.

The confusion about the words "yam" and "sweet potato", and what they represent, goes back to early food promoters in this country. Yams and sweet potatoes became synonymous in our household vocabulary partly through this marketing campaign.

In the early 1900's, sweet-potato promoters used the word "yam" to represent the deeper orange, moist-fleshed varieties. They used the words "sweet potato" to refer to the smaller, yellowish-orange, dry-fleshed varieties. To this day, most supermarkets still use both words to mean the same product. However, no matter which word is used, what they sell, no matter if it is fresh or canned, is not a true yam but in actuality is a sweet potato.

For more information about yams and sweet potatoes, go to

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Monique N. Gilbert, BSc. has offered guidance in health, nutrition, fitness and stress management since 1989. Through her writings, Monique motivates and teaches how to improve your well-being, vitality and longevity with balanced nutrition, physical activity and healthy stress-free living.

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