Yams vs. Sweet Potatoes. Where's the value?
November 19, 2007 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Why are Sweet Potatoes so much more expensive than Yams?

I understand that, technically, they are all sweet potatoes, but at least around here, the markets sell something they call sweet potatoes and something they call yams. The sweet potatoes are much more expensive. Why? Is it because they have greater nutritional value? -- I kind of doubt that. Are they harder to grow?
I am curious and a little P.O'd at having to pay much more for the sweets -- a little explanation might help.
posted by nnk to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It is my understanding that yams are simply are variety of sweet potato that is from a specific region, like bourbon and Tennessee whiskey there isnt a real difference.

Now real yams are from the Caribbean and can grow to be the size of your arm, but those are likely not what you are coming across in your supermarket.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:57 AM on November 19, 2007

According to this site, there are subtle varieties of this veggie. The less expensive product might be a 'tropical yam,' which is apparently more moist and sweeter than a sweet potato- so perhaps worth checking out!
posted by farishta at 9:58 AM on November 19, 2007

Where's "around here"?
posted by hermitosis at 10:42 AM on November 19, 2007

My understanding (from How to Cook Everything) is that yams and sweet potatoes are not actually the same, and that yams are starchier and not as flavorful... though I could be remembering that wrong. Stores don't always get this type of thing right, though - I've seen fennel bulbs mislabeled as "anise" and so on.

Beyond that, I'm just as confused as you are, but when presented the choice I buy whatever's labeled "sweet potato," because that's what I want. I suppose they grow in different areas and are subject to availability, seasonal changes, etc.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:09 AM on November 19, 2007

I've always heard the same as BobbyDigital.

Quoth Wikipedia:
In the United States, sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) are often referred to as "yams". Sweet potatoes labeled as "yams" are widely available in markets such as those that serve Asian or Caribbean communities.
Why only some sweet potatoes would be labelled yams is still a mystery.
posted by Utilitaritron at 11:13 AM on November 19, 2007

Here's some more info...
posted by General Malaise at 11:14 AM on November 19, 2007

It might help to define your terms. Where I grew up (American deep south), sweet potatoes are the tubers with the bright orange flesh. Which always seemed reasonable to me, given that sweet potato pie has that same distinctive color.

However, in my adopted home on the left coast, they call the orange tubers "yams", while what they call sweet potatoes have this mild yellow color. Heresy!

So, what's more expensive in your area? The yellow spuds, or the orange ones?
posted by browse at 11:16 AM on November 19, 2007

my understanding is that sweet potatoes are much more nutritious and expensive. a grocer in my area was labeling sweet potatoes as yams and selling them very cheap. i discovered they were in fact sweet potatoes by googling the variety (in my case "beauregard").
posted by ncc1701d at 11:17 AM on November 19, 2007

If true yams are sold at your grocery store, they're likely called taro.

The orange variety of sweet potato is likely more expensive because it's more in demand. Also, the flesh is a little moister, thus making better pie.

FYI, the answer to "why is x food more expensive" is almost never "more nutritious."
posted by desuetude at 11:30 AM on November 19, 2007

yep. yams do NOT = sweet potatoes, like Malaise said...


I think the mystery is more like, not caring. I.e. people working at stores that sell sweet potatoes/yams who label the stuff in the aisle don't really care what you call them, and consumers don't seem to care all that much either, so the misnomering will continue..

True yams are less common 'round the u.s., and probably thus more expensive...
posted by bitterkitten at 11:35 AM on November 19, 2007

I worked in the produce section of the local supermarket during high school. We had a basket for the yams and a basket for the sweet potatoes and the sweet potatoes were slightly more expensive. They both were stocked from the same box. It made answering "What's the difference between yams and sweet potatoes?" difficult. ("Twenty cents a pound.")
posted by MarkAnd at 11:38 AM on November 19, 2007

"If true yams are sold at your grocery store, they're likely called taro."

Actually Taros are not "true yams" but cocoyams (heh it gets more confusing!) - and there are two varieties (Taro proper - colocasia esculenta; and Malanga - xanthosoma).

True yams are of the dioscorea family and include the white yam (dioscorea rotunda), yellow yam (diocorea cayenesis) and water yam (dioscorea alata).

Confused yet?

...so the small orange pretenders aren't really yams at all!
posted by ramix at 12:24 PM on November 19, 2007

Where I shop, yams are orange and sometimes other colors and sizes -- they are moister. Sweet potatoes are pale yellow inside and light brown/yellow, out.

Also, I could have sworn I'd read (Walter Willett or someone like him) that sweet potatoes are more nutritious than yams, but now I can't find it.

Still, there doesn't seem to be a good answer as to why sweet potatoes are more expensive.
posted by nnk at 12:52 PM on November 19, 2007

Supply and demand.
posted by yohko at 12:53 PM on November 19, 2007

"If true yams are sold at your grocery store, they're likely called taro. "

Really? Taro is a completely different vegetable to the true yam, and it requires proper cooking unless you want oxalic acid poisoning.

Getting back to your American "yams" and "sweet potatoes", they're different varieties of the same Ipomoea plant, and price differences are for the same reasons different kinds of potato have price differences: crop yields and transport costs and market demand.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 3:21 PM on November 19, 2007

I am going to have to go with crop yields like IamJoe'sSpleen said. I can't agree that transport costs and market demand play that big of a part in the cost because: I can't imagine they're grown anywhere farther away than yams and, because of the general confusion the average shopper has -- i.e., a person is just as likely to pick up a yam as a sweet potato if they aren't marked because he/she can't tell the difference!

Thanks for the input -- enjoy your yams or sweet potatoes or taro or . . .!
posted by nnk at 3:36 PM on November 19, 2007

Actually Taros are not "true yams" but cocoyams

Dammit, you're right. But I think I've seen UK recipes refer to yams as taro?
posted by desuetude at 4:23 PM on November 19, 2007

Short answer to the original question: Supply and demand. There are a lot more Yams grown than sweet potatoes. Ergo, they're cheaper.

Where I've seen things called "sweet potatos" and "yams" sold side by side, the "yams" are yams, and the sweet potatoes are one or more of several species of potato which are not native to north america.

Yams are widely consumed here. Things like Batatas and other sweet potatoes are not grown in such large volume.
posted by lodurr at 6:46 AM on December 14, 2007

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