MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Every Thanksgiving, Americans buy tons of sweet potatoes. Or are they yams? What’s the difference? Good Question.
“In short, they have very little in common and are two completely different plants,” says Tara Smith of the LSU AgCenter.
Sweet potatoes are modified roots, while yams are modified stems, often called a tuber. Sweet potatoes tend to be moister, sweeter and have smoother skins than yams.
Most sweet potatoes are grown in the U.S. Most yams are imported from the Caribbean and sold in ethnic grocery stores.
It’s likely many Americans have never eaten a true yam. Even though most grocery stores call the plant a yam, there’s a good chance it’s actually a sweet potato. The USDA requires that any food marketed as a yam must also specify sweet potato on the container.
According to Smith, Louisiana sweet potato farmers in the 1930s wanted to differentiate their product from others. They named their sweet potatoes yams and the name just stuck.