Chances are, that yam you thought you bought at the grocery store last week is actually a sweet potato.

The yam is not related in any which way to the sweet potato

A true yam is a starchy edible root of a tropical vine, generally from West Africa, Asia or the Caribbean. Its outer skin is rough and scaly like tree bark and has a starchy, rather than sweet taste. For years yams were only available in speciality stores in North America, but they are becoming more common in all grocery stores.

Most sweet potatoes come from North Carolina

A sweet potato’s flesh can vary from white to orange or purple and tastes, well, sweet. Most of the sweet potatoes we eat in North America come from North Carolina, although Canada is jumping on the popular sweet potato bandwagon with a new variety called “Radiance”.

Developed by a researcher at the Vineland Research and Innovation Centre in Southern Ontario’s Niagara region, “Radiance” has been designed to be high-yielding and able to thrive in Canada’s climate, with a short growing season of 118 to 122 days.

Overall, while you may find the “true yam” to be elusive, you’ll find sweet potatoes in just about every grocery store, anywhere…but sometimes they’re called yams, sometimes sweet potatoes and sometimes both!

Why all the confusion?

Years ago when a new orange-fleshed sweet potato variety was being introduced to the North American market, they were labelled after the African word “nyami” meaning “to eat”, in order to differentiate them from the white-fleshed sweet potatoes that had been the common variety.

“Nyami” became “yams” and soon the grocery stores were selling the firm white sweet potato as “sweet potatoes” and the new golden, soft sweet potatoes as “yams”. Then the U.S. Department of Agriculture insisted that those tubers labelled “yams” also indicate that they are really a “sweet potato”.

Now you know.


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sweet potato parfait
Sweet Potato Parfait
sweet potato cheesecake
Sweet Potato Bites

Harnessing the deliciousness of the sweet potato!

The culinary team at McEwan Fine Foods have crafted these two amazing desserts, just for The Kids’ Table. Kids (and we suspect, a lot of parents) can’t get enough of them!