Sweet Potatoes and Yams are two foods that are often confused by each other but are actually two very different foods. Many grocery stores in the U.S have been mis-naming yams, sweet potatoes. This confusion has roots over 400 years ago during the slave era of the early 1600s.
Sweet Potatoes are orange fleshed potatoes, but they can also come in purple and white. On the other hand Yams are very different at first sight, they’re always white on the inside and are not common in the United States. Yams are very specifically defined, they’re said to be starchy, rough and scaly root. While Sweet Potatoes are a lot more broad, they come in many different colors and are described to be as their name, sweet.
What made these stores start misnaming these foods? Many people think the misnaming of sweet potatoes started in the south during the slave-era. Many slaves had to harvest sweet potatoes and would often be some of their only source of food. Because of this they started calling sweet potatoes yams after the African word “nyami” which means to eat.
Where are “real” Yams found? Most real Yams are found in West Africa, The Caribbean and Asia and have been a dish for years. True Yams are hard to find outside of these countries. You usually won't find real Yams in your traditional grocery store, so you have the best chance of finding them in specialty stores.
Even though these two foods are galaxies apart many groceries and market places still confuse them to this day. The next time you go to a store and see a sweet potato labeled “Yam” you’ll know where it came from and the word’s origin of confusion during the slave era.