Sweet potatoes and yams are essentially twins in the root vegetable world. If you’ve ever mistaken one for the other, trust us, you are not alone. Their oblong shape, coarse outer skin, and brownish color are almost identical.
Considering the fact that yams aren’t very common in the United States, we’re probably all wondering the same thing: what is the grocery store calling a yam?
To shop smarter, and get the right veggie for the dish you’re looking to make, it’s important to get to the root of the difference. (See what we did there?)
As we mentioned above, there are two types of sweet potatoes — “firm” and “soft.” The firm variety was the first to be produced in the U.S., so when “soft” sweet potatoes began to be produced commercially, there was a need to differentiate it from its firm counterpart. Since the “soft” sweet potatoes slightly resembled true yams, they picked up the name and became what you see labeled as “yams” in most U.S. grocery stores.
The best way to distinguish them? Grocery stores will typically label these vegetables either a “yam” or a “sweet potato” by these qualities:
- Yam — Soft sweet potato with a copper skin and deep orange flesh.
- Sweet potato — Firm sweet potato with golden skin and lighter flesh.
Bottom line: make sure you know what you actually want and need to buy for the recipe you’re making! From there, take a closer look at the vegetables in question with these descriptors in mind and choose your produce like the true foodie you are.