Sweet Potatoes Vs Yams: What’s The Difference, Plus Recipes

Stroll through the aisles of any grocery store and you’re likely to see a plethora of potato varieties. With their creamy flesh and starchy texture, potatoes are pure comfort food. Sweet potatoes have gained ground in popularity over the last few decades, and a frequent question our students ask is about sweet potatoes versus yams – is there a difference? Is one healthier than the other? And where the heck do white potatoes fit in the equation?

In a nutshell: most North American grocery stores do not carry true yams. For many of us, what we’ve bought and enjoyed as ‘yams’ are actually sweet potatoes.

Sweet Potatoes Vs Yams: Key Differences

Sweet potatoes come in multiple colours: white, orange and purple. Often, the coppery-orange-fleshed sweet potatoes are labeled as yams in stores, cookbooks and online recipes. But typically, unless you’ve purchased yams at an international or specialty store (or live in Africa, Asia or the Caribbean), what you’re eating is a sweet potato. Sweet potatoes and yams are two different vegetables.

Sweet Potatoes Vs Yams: How to Spot a Yam

Visually, true yams are brownish on the outside with a nubbly skin that resembles tree bark. Its insides are very light white/slight yellow. They are long, slender and can grow up to 6–7 feet long and reach well over 100 pounds.

Yams originated in Africa and Asia, and are a staple crop that helps provide both nutrition and income to the communities that grow them. They’re low in moisture, which not only boosts its shelf life but also actually leads to an increase in certain nutrients over time.

You’ll also find Chinese yams (nagaimo) and Japanese yams (yamaimo), which are more slender and smaller than African yams. 

sweet potatoes vs yams

Photo: Japanese Yam

Sweet Potatoes Vs Yams: How to Spot a Sweet Potato

If you’re in a general grocery store or market outside of Asia, Africa and the Caribbean, you’re likely handling a sweet potato.

Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Sweet potatoes and yams are root vegetables and have a similar compilation of nutrients. Both contain:

Sweet potato vs yam

Photo: Sweet Potato

Sweet Potatoes Vs Yams: Which is Healthier?

Sweet potatoes:

  • are sweeter than yams
  • have more moisture
  • contain a bit more Vitamin C and beta-carotene


Yams are less widely studied than sweet potatoes, but overall this isn’t a clear winner on nutritional benefits in the sweet potatoes vs yams debate. Both are an incredibly nourishing food to add to your cooking!

Ways to Enjoy Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Guide to Root Vegetables

Image: Ella Olsson via UnSplash

For the most part, the flavour and texture of sweet potatoes and yams means they can be interchanged with one another.

Note that yams cannot be eaten raw, whereas sweet potatoes can.

Common Cooking/Preparation Methods for Sweet Potatoes and Yams

  • Baked
  • Boiled
  • Steamed
  • Mashed
  • Roasted
  • Shredded

These are just some of the ways we love using sweet potatoes and yams:

What About White Potatoes: Are White Potatoes Healthy?

Sweet potatoes vs yams

Photo: Monika Grabkowska via UnSplash

White potatoes are often vilified but are rich in nutrients. Like sweet potatoes and yams, they have:

  • fibre
  • potassium
  • antioxidants
  • Vitamin C
  • protein

Cooked and cooled potatoes are rich in resistant starch, a compound that helps with digestive health and sleep

When contemplating if potatoes can be a nutritious part of your way of eating, it’s worthwhile to think about how potatoes are grown and how regularly we eat them in our diet.


What About Low-Glycemic Potatoes? 

In 2015, an Edmonton-based potato company developed a low-glycemic potato marketed to diabetics and those who are on low-glycemic diets. In our view, a low-glycemic potato doesn’t get to the root of health habits and behaviours that may lead us to feel poorly, develop diseases, or aggravate existing conditions. 

The glycemic index and how sugary or sweet foods impact blood sugar levels is important. Yet there are a multitude of ways we can counterbalance the glycemic index of potatoes – namely, by pairing them with quality sources of protein, fat, and fibre.

Try These Sweet Potato Recipes

Sweet Potato Hash

Sweet Potato Hash - From Scratch Cooking

Sweet Potato Hash by Nicola Solomonides (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)

A quick and easy hash you can have for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

Sweet Potato Lentil Goulash

sweet potato vs yam

Sweet Potato Lentil Goulash by Candra Reynolds (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)

A one-pot meal that’s packed with protein.

Roasted Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts Salad with Maple Tahini Drizzle

Sweet Potato Salad

Roasted Sweet Potato and Brussels Sprouts Salad with Maple Tahini Drizzle by Abigail Hopkins (*Culinary Nutrition Expert)

A warm, protein-rich salad with cooked and raw elements.

All Dressed Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes vs yams

All Dressed Sweet Potatoes by Meghan Telpner (*ACN Founder + Director)

Baked sweet potatoes are the ideal base for your favourite toppings!

Paleo Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Muffins

Paleo sweet potato muffins

Paleo Sweet Potato Chocolate Chip Muffins by What Great Grandma Ate

Sweet potatoes add a great natural sweetness to muffins – you may even need to use less sugar.

Try These Yam Recipes

Pounded Yam from Scratch

Pounded yams

Pounded Yam from Scratch by Chef Lola’s Kitchen

Full instructions on how to make pounded yam, a doughy yam ball used in West African cooking that is paired with soups and stews.

Yam Porridge (Asaro)

Yam Asaro

Yam Porridge by My Diaspora Kitchen

This well-seasoned yam recipe is an extremely easy one-pot dish.

Jamaican Yam Mash

Mashed Yams

Jamaican Yam Mash by That Girl Cooks Health

Beautifully studded with bell peppers, this recipe for mashed yams makes an ideal side dish for any table!

Egg Sauce and Yams

Egg Sauce and Yams

Egg Sauce and Yams by My Active Kitchen

This savoury breakfast is standard in Nigeria, and it has quite a bit of heat from the addition of scotch bonnet peppers

Oven Baked Yam Chips

Yam Chips

Oven Baked Yam Chips by My Active Kitchen

Learn the tips and tricks to make crispy yam chips in the oven. 

Nagaimo Fries

Sweet potato vs yams recipes

Nagaimo Fries by Adventures of Carlienne

Nagaimo, or Chinese yam, is used frequently in Chinese and Japanese cooking. Nagaimo is narrower than African yams, and a little harrier. They make very tasty fries!

Vegan Okonomiyaki

Sweet potatoes vs yams

Vegan Okonomiyaki by Okonomi Kitchen

Yamaimo is a similar yam to nagaimo, but it has a stickier texture that makes it perfect for binding – as in this vegan Japanese pancake recipe. 

Now that you know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, we invite you to start cooking with them! 

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