Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Potato Questions


Use these tips to prepare potatoes, sweet potatoes, and yams throughout the year. See more pictures of vegetables.
Christa Richert

Q. What are the differences between sweet potatoes and yams? Can I substitute one for the other in recipes?

A. In the United States, the term "yam" is used interchangeably, but incorrectly, with "sweet potato." In fact, they are different and distinct vegetables. To further the confusion, canned and frozen sweet potatoes are often labeled as yams.

Both yams and sweet potatoes are tubers, or roots, of plants. The tropical yam is popular in Central and South America, Africa and Asia. Sweet potatoes are native to North America. The flesh of yams ranges in color from white or yellow to pink or purple. The flesh of the most common variety of sweet potato is deep orange.

Yams have higher sugar and moisture contents, but sweet potatoes are richer in vitamins A and C. Yams can be used interchangeably with sweet potatoes in most recipes.

Q. I'd like to use sweet potatoes and yams in my cooking throughout the year, not just during the holidays. Do you have any tips for using these vegetables year-round?

A. Oh, the lonely, sometimes forgotten, often overlooked sweet potato. It's no more difficult to prepare than a regular white potato, and, if you buy the canned variety, there's no excuse for serving them only during the holidays.

A smooth mash is key to many recipes. And because some canned varieties tend to remain a bit lumpy after they've been mashed by hand or even with a handheld electric mixer, use a food processor or a blender. You'll get a creamy smooth texture every single time.

Here are more sweet potato tips:

  • Substitute sweet potatoes in baked goods calling for mashed bananas or pumpkin.
  • Bourbon, rum, orange liqueur, and vanilla pair well with sweet potatoes. Just a teaspoon or so in a sweet potato dish brings out the vegetable's savory side.
  • Just 1/2 cup of mashed sweet potatoes delivers more than 200 percent of the vitamin A and well over one-third of the vitamin C you should have in a day.

Q. Why do some recipes for diabetics include potatoes? I'm diabetic, and my doctor told me not to eat them.

A. Since most meal plans allow between 40 and 60 grams of carbohydrate per meal, many diabetic recipes are designed to be suitable for these meal plans. So, you will find a few recipes that include high-carbohydrate foods. Including foods high in carbohydrate in your meal is acceptable as long as they are counted toward the total carbohydrate content of the meal.

Daily meal plans are very individual. A recipe may work well for one meal plan but not for another.

 


More to Explore