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Is That a Sweet Potato or Yam On Your Plate?


“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would be just as sweet.”

When Shakespeare wrote this now-famous line from the classic play “Romeo and Juliet,” he probably wasn’t thinking of sweet potatoes.


What’s In A Name?


So what does Shakespeare and sweet potatoes have in common?

On the shelves and in the vegetable bins at your local grocery store you’ll see that a vegetable named a sweet potato and yam, sometimes has both names on the bin or the can.

Aren’t they one and the same?

Au contraire, mon amie!

Sweet potatoes claim kin with the morning glory family and have a moist texture and orange flesh.

True yams, on the other hand, are large tuberous roots, and are related to lilies or grasses. They grow in tropical climates and mature in no less than 8 months, sporting a rough and dark complexion. They can grow up to 2 feet long and weigh 80 pounds.

So how did sweet potatoes whose origins are believed to be In Central America come to be called a yam?


The Root of the Mystery


One theory was that 1930s-era sweet potato farmers in Louisiana wanted to distinguish their produce from other state’s offerings, so they marketed them as “yams”—and voila! it stuck.

Today, sweet potato producers are required by the USDA to add the words “sweet potato” and “yams” to labels, which actually adds to the confusion.

So if grandma calls ‘em “yams,” then good luck changing that tradition!


Sweet Potato Facts With No Dispute


These beautiful tubers do enjoy a long history of being loved and very useful.

Christopher Columbus was such a fan of this vegetable that he brought it home to Spain on his fourth return voyage.

George Washington was a sweet potato farmer before becoming a General and President of the United States.

And in the 19th century, George Washington Carver developed more than 100 products from the sweet potato including ink, textile dye, and synthetic rubber.


A Delicious Compromise


Whatever you choose to name it, just know that the sweet potato is as adaptable as it is delectable.