Before you reach for the candied yams this Thanksgiving, there’s something you need to know. They’re not actually yams! All this time Americans have been making the mistake of calling sweet potatoes “yams.” But there’s actually a difference. It turns out sweet potatoes and yams are not even related. They are two different species of root vegetable with very different backgrounds and uses.
So why the confusion? The U.S. government has perpetuated the error of labeling sweet potatoes “yams.” In most cases sweet potatoes are labeled with both terms, which just adds to the confusion. Since there are two types of sweet potatoes, one with creamy white flesh and one with orange, the USDA labels the orange-fleshed ones “yams” to distinguish them from the paler variety. Ok, so that sort of makes sense. But why call the orange-fleshed ones “yams” in the first place? So to understand the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, we have to dig a little deeper (tuber pun intended). [read]