Explore and Understand Africa Through Her Food and Culture

If you like honey, fear not the bees. -African Proverb

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Are Sweet Potatoes Yams?

The truth is what you call a yam is most likely a sweet potato. Yams and sweet potatoes are both flowering plants however, that is their only relation. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier. 


The mix-up between yams and sweet potatoes began in the United States when firm varieties of sweet potatoes were grown by African slaves before soft varieties. They called the soft sweet potatoes yams because they resembled the yams in Africa. Therefore, soft sweet potatoes were referred to as yams to distinguish them from the new firm varieties.

Sweet potato varieties are classified as either firm or soft. The skin color can range from white to yellow, red, purple or brown. The flesh also ranges in color from white to yellow, orange, or orange-red. Currently, sweet potatoes are the 3rd most important crop in seven eastern and central African countries, and fourth in six southern African countries.

There are over 600 varieties of yams and 95% of these crops are grown in Africa. Compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier.

Growing Nigerian Yams
Growing Nigerian Yams
Yams are native to Africa and Asia. The sweet potato, maybe native to tropical America introduced to Western Africa by the Portuguese in the 1500’s. 


The sweet potato is its 3rd most important agricultural product in terms of volume after the plantain and the cassava. Uganda leads the way in the production of sweet potatoes representing half the African supply followed by Nigeria and Tanzania.


The yam belt of West Africa includes Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Central Africa, Cameroon and Togo, Nigeria alone produces 71% of the yams.

Share this page

Trending Now

Did you know?

The eye never forgets what the heart has seen - African Proverb