Sweet Potatoes Vs. Yams: Here's How to Tell the Difference

sweet potatoes marshmallows
the food passionates/Corbis

There's a lie that gets perpetuated every year at Thanksgiving. It's time we clear it up. No, I'm not talking about that fib you tell your cousin Mavis about her creamed corn dish. I'm talking about what we've been calling "candied yams." You know that dish of sweet potatoes topped with toasted marshmallows and brown sugar? You guys. Those are not yams. Those are sweet potatoes. And it's about time we all talked about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, once and for all.

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Here are eight ways you can tell the difference between these two vegetables.

1. No relation. Yams and sweet potatoes are not even related botanically, according to the Library of Congress. Yams are related to lilies and grasses (WHAT?), while sweet potatoes are part of the morning glory family.

2. Yams are usually white inside. Yams can be reddish or purplish as well, but most often, if you scrape the skin with a fingernail, you'll see white or cream-colored flesh.

3. Sweet potatoes are usually orange inside. These can vary in color too, but the most common varieties have orange flesh.

More from CafeMom: Irresistible Sweet Potato Casserole With Marshmallows Recipe

4. Yams have a different texture than sweet potatoes. They're starchier and drier. True yams are also hard to find and usually sold in international markets.

5. Grocery store yams are probably not real yams. When sweet potatoes were first introduced in the US, it was the harder variety. Then, when a softer variety became available, stores started labeling them "yams" to differentiate the two. These impostor yams have deeper orange flesh than what's typically labeled "sweet potatoes."

6. Many sweet potatoes have two labels: "yams" and "sweet potatoes." The USDA requires soft-variety sweet potatoes labeled "yams" to have a second label, "sweet potatoes." As a general rule, if the label reads "yams" and nothing else, it's most likely a real yam.

7. This is what a yam looks like.

yam
TH-Foto/Corbis

8. This is what a sweet potato looks like.

sweet potato
Image Source/Corbis

Before I learned the difference between the two, I once accidentally bought real yams -- and boy was I disappointed. Maybe you just have to get used to the flavor, but they weren't nearly as tasty as sweet potatoes. In fact, they were pretty bland.

Anyway, now you know the difference between sweet potatoes and yams. Go forth and enjoy your Thanksgiving and other holiday meals equipped with this knowledge.

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