Which Word Wednesday: Sweet Potato vs. Yam

By October 31, 2012 language 2 Comments

I’ve eaten more sweet potatoes in October than I’ve eaten in all of 2012. That’s because a friend and I are working through the spiritual fasting exercises in Jen Hatmaker’s book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. The first exercise focused on food; I committed to three weeks of a restricted, ultra-clean diet consisting of seven foods (Jen’s list). There were a few variations/modifications (dinners, eating out, etc.), but for the most part, I ate eggs, whole grain bread, baby spinach, sweet potatoes, chicken, avocadoes, and apples—for three weeks.

Wow. Restrictions are hard, even when you aren’t going hungry. I had to get creative with what I had, especially with the sweet potatoes. I ate them baked for a week, then I had to shake it up. I made sweet potato soup. (meh.) I made whole-wheat sweet potato pancakes. (Tasty; needed the unsanctioned pecans.) Then I got crazy and made sweet potato fries. (delicious!)

And that brings us to today’s Which Word Wednesday. Was I eating sweet potatoes or yams? Maybe they are synonymous? I honestly don’t know. Let’s see if we can sort out these veggies, starting with the definitions from The Oxford American Dictionary:

sweet potato :: noun
an edible tropical tuber with pinkish orange, slightly sweet flesh

yam :: noun
the edible starchy tuber of a climbing plant, widely distributed in tropical and subtropical countries

That’s no help whatsoever. Let’s go see what Rod Evans says in The Artful Nuance:

Sweet potatoes are the orange roots of the morning glory . . . whereas yams are the brownish starchy tubers . . . of the vines of the genus Dioscorea. . . . They are distinct vegetables.”1

OK. Both roots: one from a flower, one from a plant. Still not solved.

These are yams. Crazy big.

I’m going to the Internets. I watched a few videos and did some searching. I found that sweet potatoes are the reddish orange variety; yams are more like yellow potatoes but are HUMUNGOUS.

There you have it. Sweet potatoes are orange and normal sized; yams are brown and freakishly large.

What’s my WWW verdict? I think I can safely say that I have not been eating yams.

What’s your verdict? Do you call your sweet potatoes yams? Have you ever eaten a yam? Do share in the comments.


Check out previous Which Word Wednesday verdicts here.

1. Rod L. Evans, The Artful Nuance: A Refined Guide to Imperfectly Understood Words in the English Language (New York, NY: Penguin Group, 2009), 190.

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