What’s the Difference Between a Sweet Potato and a Yam

Botanical Names: Ipomoea batatas

Interesting enough orange flesh varieties of sweet potatoes are mainly consumed only in the United States and three other countries. About 95% of sweet potatoes grown in the world have white flesh. Yes, they are indeed sweet potatoes and not yams. Many use the words yam and swee potato interchangeably in parts of the U.S. and Canada. However, they are not the same and come from different botanical families. 

It is often referenced that this confusion began with the early settlers who called the sweet potato by the wrong name with the problem remaining today. The USDA requires orange sweet potatoes to be labeled as yams, yet true yams are most often grown in Africa and the Carribean. 

Here are some white sweet potato varieties to try next year in your vegetable garden.

White Yams – Yes, this is a variety of sweet potato not a yam. It is one of the oldest varieties and goes by an assortment of different names – ‘Triumphs’, ‘Southern Queen’, ‘Popular Root’, ‘Choker’ and ‘White Bunch’. When searching to find slips or potatoes, gardeners would need to search in catalogs under sweet potatoes to find these varieties. This is a very unusual variety and could garner top prizes at state fairs and 4H meetings. Harvest typically takes place about 110 days after planting.

Bonita – Prized as being one of the sweetest, sweet potatoes. ‘Bonita’ is stated to have double the sugar content compared to varieties like ‘O’Henry’. If you’re looking for a great sweet potato to make fries – this should be your go-to. This variety has bright, white flesh with yellow specks and the tan skin has a pink highlight. It does need plenty of space to spread as it can reach 40 inches in length and matures at 90 to 100 days.

Murasaki – A standout in the garden due to its brilliant purple skin, then when cut it contrasts with a bright, white flesh. A fun variety that will start many conversations in the vegetable garden and at the dinner table. Referred to as a Japanese sweet potato, this cultivar was recently introduced by the LSU breeding program. Those that have tasted it state that it has a nutty flavor. It takes about 120 days after planting to see these gorgeous, purple spuds.

O’Henry – Many find the flavor of ‘O’Henry’ to be unlike any sweet potato that they have ever tasted, described as smooth, stringless with hints of nut and honey. This golden-brown spud with cream interior looks a lot like its cousin from Idaho, but the taste is out of this world. The yield of potatoes is heavy during harvest at 100 days giving you plenty to store and share with the sweet potato loving friends.

Nancy Hall – Popular old-time favorite with bright white flesh and grayish brown skin also known as ‘Yellow Yam’, but remember it is not a yam! Sweet delicious flavor is more pronounced after curing as with most sweets. Flavor is said to be the best adaptable table sweet potato with a mellow and sweet taste. Best variety for southern gardens although the plant is not the prettiest, however, the vegetable in the end is worth it.