The African Gourmet and Chic African Culture

What is the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

Sweet Potatoes and Yams differences.

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.

What is the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

What is the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

What is the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams

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.

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

Home Grown Yams
Home Grown Yams

The yam belt of West Africa includes Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Central Africa, Cameroon and Togo, Nigeria alone produces 71 percent of the yams. Yams are second to cassava as the most important tropical root crop and are a staple food in many parts of Africa, Southeast Asia, and the South Pacific. Seventy percent of the 50 million tons world output of 2008 was grown in Nigeria.

The starchy tuber, with rough brown skin, is produced by an annual vine and takes from 8 to 11 months to mature after planting. Yams are mainly grown for cooking and eating. The tubers can be stored for up to six months without refrigeration. Yams are second to cassava as the most important tropical root crop.

Yams are one of the most common and popular root crops in tropical and semi-tropical regions of Africa and have become a mainstay of many African cultures. Besides their importance as a food source, yams also play a significant role in the social and cultural lives of Africans. 

The celebrated New Yam Festival in West Africa is an anticipated event each year and a practice that has extended to overseas where there is a significant population of Igbo tribes. Considered a prestigious crop, it is the crop of choice for traditional feasts, gifts and fulfilling social obligations to many Nigerian Igbo Africans.

Yams store relatively longer in comparison with other tropical fresh produce and therefore stored yam represents stored wealth which can be sold all-year-round by the farmer or marketer. In parts of Igboland in Southeastern Nigeria, it is customary for the parents of a bride to offer her yams for planting as a resource to assist them in raising a family. Most of the world production of yam is from Africa about 96% with Nigeria alone accounting for nearly 75% of the total world production.

Sweet Potato Biscuits Recipe

Sweet Potato Biscuits Recipe


1 large sweet potato, cooked and mashed
1/3 cup of milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon of sea salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter


Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet.
In a small bowl, whisk together the sweet potato and 1/3 cup milk. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt.

Cut in the butter with your hands, a pastry blender or two knives until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the sweet potato mixture and fold gently to combine. Add the remaining milk a little at a time until all the flour is moistened.

Note: The amount of milk you will need will depend on the moisture of the sweet potato.
Sprinkle a small handful of flour on a work surface. Turn the dough out onto the surface and knead lightly 2 to 3 times with the palm of your hand until the mixture comes together. Pat the dough out into a 1/2-inch-thick round.

Using a 2 1/2-inch-round biscuit cutter, cut the dough into biscuits. Gently reroll the scraps and cut out more biscuits. Place the biscuits on the prepared baking sheet and bake until light golden brown and firm to the touch, 12 to 14 minutes.

More information and African food recipes 

Sweet potatoes are a relative newcomer to the African region but have rapidly gained traction among some farmers on account of their comparative ease of establishment and cultivation, and resilience to pests, disease, and drought. Sweet potatoes and yams are also good sources of energy, which the body needs to stay active.

The yellow and orange varieties of the sweet potato root contain a high amount of Vitamin A and all varieties contain appreciable quantities of Vitamin C. Yams provide significant quantities of vitamin B1, vitamin C and dietary iron and niacin.

Yams are a high-value food that is easily grown and mature quickly in the right soil conditions. Sweet potato is a creeping plant and the only economically important species of the family Convolvulaceae, the morning glory family of flowering plants. Another major difference between yams and sweet potatoes is the leaves of sweet potatoes are also a useful source of vegetable greens cooked like spinach.

Effortless Stir-fry Sweet Potato Leaves Recipe

4 large handfuls sweet potato leaves, chopped
1 chopped red bell pepper
1 bunch chives, chopped
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil

Add ingredients into a large pot and sauté about 3 minutes. Serve over rice.

Effortless Stir-fry Sweet Potato Leaves Recipe

More economical easy breakfast, lunch and dinner recipes to make right now so you never have to eat or prepare a boring meal again.

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  3. Senegalese Chicken Vermicelli
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