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What is the Difference Between Yams and Sweet Potatoes
The Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are a dicot (a plant with two embryonic seed leaves) from the Convolvulacea family. Though they do not tolerate frost and are sensitive to drought, fairing best in tropical and warm temperate climates with adequate rainfall, they are a relatively low maintenance crop. They have few natural enemies, meaning pesticides are rarely needed, and because their rapidly growing vines provide plenty of shade, little weeding is necessary.
Shaped somewhat like a baking potato, sweet potatoes have a smooth skin and tapered ends. The most recognizable sweet potato (at least in the US) is probably the orange-skinned variety. However, they can be found in a range of colors including yellow, red, brown, purple, and beige. The darker colors tend to be sweeter.
Yams are a monocot (a plant with one embryonic seed leaf) from the Dioscoreaceae family. Grown most successfully in humid climates, yams are much more high maintenance than the sweet potato. Not only are they quite susceptible to a range of insect pests as well as fungal and viral diseases, but they require a considerable amount of manual labor to produce, as mechanized methods of harvesting have yet to be established.
Tubular in shape, with rough, thick skin, yams can actually grow up to about five to seven feet in length. They can be found in colors ranging from dark brown to light pink and are actually typically sweeter than the sweet potato.
Lower in calories and considerably higher in Vitamin A as well as beta-carotene, sweet potatoes are considered to pack more of a nutritional punch than yams. However, the tubular vegetable does win out when it comes to potassium and sodium content.
Sweet Potatoes versus Yams
Component (per 100 grams)
Fun Facts About Sweet Potatoes
- They’re ranked among the world’s seven most important food crops
- Though they originated in Latin America, China is currently the world’s largest producer.
- Pizza restaurants in Korea use them as toppings.
- Every year, Benton, Kentucky hosts the Tater Day Festival in honor of sweet potatoes.
- In South America, sweet potato juice is combined with lime juice to make dyes for cloth – colors vary according to the juice proportions and can include everything from pink to black.
- They’re known as the “protector of children” in Africa, as they are often the only food that stands between a child’s survival and starvation.
- Most of the sweet potato crop in the US is canned.
- They’ve been used in folk remedies to treat everything from asthma to night blindness to diarrhea.
- North Carolina is the largest US producer of sweet potatoes and in 1995 designated it as their official state vegetable (Louisiana did the same in 2003).
- Scientist George Washington Carver developed 118 different products from sweet potatoes including; glue for postal stamps, dehydrated food, and an alternative to corn syrup.
- Sweet potatoes are not, in fact, related to the potato.
Fun Facts About Yams
- They can grow up to 20 pounds in weight.
- Nigeria is the world’s largest producer and exporter of yams.
- Yam milk has been used topically to help heal ulcers, boils, and abscesses.
- Every August, a Yam Festival is hosted in Ghana during which people offer yams to gods and ancestors as a way of giving thanks.
- There are more than 600 varieties of yams.
- Yams are closely related to lilies or grasses.