Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

My version with the lighter colored, less sweet version of the sweet potato

The softer, orange-fleshed variety of sweet po...

I was always told that sweet potatoes and yams are the same thing so when I went to the grocery store to get sweet potatoes for this Pinterest find I was a little confused when they had both yams AND sweet potatoes. Luckily my grocery store has free wi-fi so I looked it up. As far as I can tell there’s no way to know if what you’re buying is a yam or a sweet potato unless you’re a botanist. Both can be any color under the sun, both can have varying degrees of sweetness, both can have soft or firm textures… it’s anyone’s guess.

In the pictures, the sweet potatoes used in the original recipe I’m recapping below had orange flesh, but the sweet potatoes I purchased had russet-potato-colored flesh. I have purchased the orange fleshed vegetable…tuber…thing before and it was labeled as a yam. It was a LOT sweeter and mushier than the lighter colored sweet potato I bought for this dish. I liked the level of sweetness that the white sweet potato had more than the orange so I’m glad I used it for this Sweet Potato & Black Bean Hash.

Sweet Potato & Black Bean Hash


  • 1/4 C olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, cut into 1/4″ cubes
  • 2 sweet peppers (red and orange preferably), diced
  • 2 cans black beans
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • dash of cayenne (or more to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano


  1. In a large skillet, saute onion in olive oil over medium heat 2-3 minutes. Reduce heat, add sweet potatoes, beans, peppers, garlic and oregano. Cook until potatoes are tender.
  2. Optional: serve with “taco” toppings like shredded cheese, hot sauce, and sour cream

The dish needed some more spice so next time I’ll add some cajun seasoning or hot sauce to balance the sweetness. Also, make sure you don’t over-cook the potatoes. The only thing I didn’t care for about this dish was the texture and it was because I overcooked the potatoes.

More fun facts about Yams and Sweet Potatoes

  • Yams are tubers of tropical vines
  • Yams and sweet potatoes are not related
  • Yams are sweeter and have a higher moisture content than sweet potatoes
  • Sweet Potatoes can have:
    • thin, light yellow skin with pale yellow flesh, is not sweet, has texture similar to a white baking potato
    • thick, darker, orange to reddish skin (most often mistaken for a yam) with orange flesh, is sweet and moist
    • Popular varieties include: Goldrush, Georgia Red, Centennial, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Velvet
  • Yams are popular in the Caribbean and Latin America
  • There are over 150 varieties of yam
  • The yam has:
    • brown or black skin which resembling the bark of a tree
    • off-white, purple or red flesh
  • Sweet potato varieties are classified as either ‘firm’ or ‘soft’. Soft varieties are often labeled as yams in the United States

Sources: Library of Congress, About.com

See also: Black Bean & Sweet Potato Quesedillas with Swiss Chard Pesto


2 thoughts on “Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

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