What's the Difference Between Sweet Potatoes and Yams?

Good Questions

Q: What is the difference between a sweet potato and a yam? My boyfriend and I are in love with "sweet potato fries" so I shop for them frequently, usually grabbing whichever is in stock.

Is there a difference? Is one better for fry making? - Sent by Kate

Editor: Kate, sweet potatoes and yams are actually two different species, but it gets confusing because the names are used interchangeably US markets to refer to sweet potatoes. True yams are rarely seen in the US, though you can sometimes find them in Latin markets or specialty stores. They are identifiable by their thick scaly skin and rounded ends (as opposed to the tapered ends of sweet potatoes).

For frying, we'd recommend going for the root that's actually labeled "sweet potato." These have lighter-colored flesh, tend to be starchier, and will stay firmer during cooking than the root labeled "yam." A yam in US markets can indicate a particular kind of dark orange sweet potato that is higher in sugar and gets soggy when cooked. That's great for sweet potato pie and baby food, but not so good for crispy fries!

Keep an eye out for true yams, though. We hear they're both sweet and starchy, so we think they'd make good fries!

Readers, do you have any advice for making good sweet potato fries at home?

Related: Recipe: Roasted Sweet Potato Sticks with Rosemary

(Image: Flickr member Ed Yourdon licensed under Creative Commons)

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