Sweet potatoes are native to warm, tropical regions and a long season root crop. They are often referred to as “yams” to distinguish them from white potatoes. Sweet potatoes, however, are not yams—as they are botanically quite different. Yams belong to another cultivar group, have rough, scaly skin and are very low in beta carotene. In contrast, sweet potatoes have smooth skin and are rich in beta carotene among other nutrients.
Because the two words are used interchangeably in the United States (and Canada), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) requires “yam” labels to always be accompanied by “Sweet Potato” in an attempt to alleviate confusion.
References: Purdue University, UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of Illinois Extension, USDA.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
There are hundreds of varieties of sweet potatoes and not all are the familiar orange color. Some varieties are purple, others are white, and many are variations of the orange we typically see. The most popular variety planted in North Carolina, the top producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, is the Covington, others include Bayou Belle, Bellevue, Bonita, Burgandy, Murasaki, and Orleans.
References: Louisiana State University Ag Center Research & Extension, North Carolina SweetPotato Commission, U.S. Sweet Potato Council, USDA.