Food Experiments: Meet the Yam Man

Hey dude. Yam Man, here. I might be ugly but check out my eyes and ears and nose and mouth (and moo-stash) for the inside scoop on yams and sweet potatoes.
Today's vegetable lesson: What's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?

Ha! Look who followed me home over the weekend, the Yam Man. He persuaded me to finally figure out how sweet potatoes and yams are different -- and the same.

The Yam Man's 'Eyes' - are Purple Potatoes - which have creamy-colored smooth skins that hide gorgeous deep purple flesh (also called an Okinawan yam and Okinawan purple potato)

His 'Left Ear' is - a Boniato - which has red-tinged papery skin with white flesh that discolors nearly instantly when exposed to air (also called a tropical sweet potato, Cuban sweet potato, white sweet potato, white-fleshed sweet potato, batiste, batata, batata dulce, camote)

His 'Nose' is - a Ghana Yam - which was very large (what's pictured is 1/3 a small one, see just how big a ghana yam is) with fibrous skin like a coconut and a creamy white interior flesh

His 'Right Ear' is - a gnarly specimen but what let's call an American "sweet potato", the typical ones in American supermarkets

His 'Left Moustache' is - a Red Garnet Yam, my favorite of the bunch and a variety of sweet potato with smooth red-cast skin with deep orange-colored flesh (a long-ish one is pictured, others were shaped like the 'American' sweet potato)

His 'Right Moustache' is - a Japanese Yam, which had a thin red skin and a pretty yellow interior flesh and I think, prepared well, that this one has promise (also called satsumaimo potato)

His 'Mouth' - was labelled 'Costa Rica Yam' but it's likely a Tropical Yam that has a rough skin and (also called true yam, greater yam, cush-cush, mapuey, yampi, namé, name, nyami, igname)

And now roasted -- Upper left = Boniato; Upper center = Red Garnet Yam; Upper right = Tropical Yam; Center left = Japanese Yam; Bottom left = Purple Potat; Bottom middle = Ghana Yam; Bottom right = American sweet potatoTASTE TESTING For simplicity, I cubed all of these, tossed them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them for 90 minutes at 375F for a taste test. The only one that was truly delicious (and gobbled up in seconds!) was the Red Garnet Yam -- do look for this variety, it's like a sweet potato on steroid, extra flavorful, extra creamy, way better even, than the 'American' sweet potato.

The notes on all the other varieties read, "dry" and "starchy" and "not much flavor" and "cracker-ish" and "no flavor", etc. If I'd consulted Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka ahead of time, I'd have known beforehand that roasting yams is a mistake. "Do not roast yams," she says, very plainly and directly. Her expansive book warns that real yams nearly always are much starchier than 'American' sweet potatoes (and yes, the Red Garnet yam which of course is a sweet potato). Her recipe for the boniato calls for 12 tablespoons of butter and a half cup of cream for just one pound of the yam. YIKES, that makes a sweet potato casserole look positively healthful.

And now for those who are truly fascinated, just peeled -- Upper left = Boniato; Upper center = Red Garnet Yam; Upper right = Tropical Yam; Center left = Purple Potato; Center middle = Japanese Yam; Bottom middle = Ghana Yam; Bottom right = American sweet potato;
You can too buy 'real yams', the ones from Africa in the United States. Just visit Kirkwood, Missouri. That said, my new pal the produce manager at Global Foods Market says that most of this stuff comes from either southern California or Mexico.
Don't let excitement take over your shopping cart. It's fine to try one or two brand-new things at a time, but more than that, it's overwhelming. Each one of these yams is probably delicious, prepared in a way that best suits it. But because I had so many, I just couldn't deal with figuring that out, one by one.
My new very very favorite sweet potato is the 'red garnett yam'. That's the root vegetable that had me raving over Fresh Candied Yams last fall. The skin was different so I thought it was, indeed, a yam. Oops. It wasn't a yam, it was just a variety of sweet potato.

~ Sweet Potato recipes ~

~ one year ago this week, Carrots with African Spices, paprika, cumin, coriander and citrus juice ~
~ two years ago today, Turkey, Tortellini & Watercress Soup, a simple soup and a good way to use up leftover turkey ~

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Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Great post, Alanna. I'm going to print this and take it to the market the next time I'm looking for sweet potatoes. Or yams.

  2. Are you playing with food again, dear Alanna? You :)

  3. nice post! not many people are aware of these differences!

    btw, I'm hosting a Game Night Party event on my blog and would like to invite you to send in a delicious entry if you can! (details on my blog) Hope to see you there!

  4. Wow! That is a lot of yams! I am jealous. I will have to check out the red garnet one!

  5. I'm amazed that you had all of those yams/potatoes in the house at one time! And I'm really jealous because most of them can't be found where I live.

  6. I am also very jealous! I'm lucky if I find more than three kinds of potatoes at the store. Even Yukon Gold can be hard to find here in the Deep South. Maybe a trip to Missouri is in order?

  7. I just had a Japanese Yam for dinner last night! I love them, they're mildly sweet and have such a pretty pale yellow color. In Japan they used to sell them on the street in the fall, kind of like the ice cream man. I was actually thinking about blogging about it myself! I love them baked in the oven whole.

  8. Very informative. I will be on the look out for more varities of yams at Whole Foods.

  9. This is such a fun and informative post, Alanna. I absolutely love the Red Garnett potatoes. They are so sweet and creamy, that I often just roast them and eat them plain. Mmmm.... Thanks!

  10. I just tried the Okinawan purple sweet potatoes for the first time and they were delicious.

    They were sos good I've already picked up some more :-)

    I'm looking forward to trying some of the others ones you listed!

  11. I love to use Japanese yams combined with regular sweet potato and white potato in a healthy-ish gratin, very simply covered with thyme-and-garlic-infused milk, sprinkled w/ parm and baked in a covered casserole until tender. They are not as sweet as regular sweet potatoes so they are good for serving men who often say they don't like sweet vegetables (at least the ones I know).


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe, whether a current recipe or a long-ago favorite. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. ~ Alanna