Yams Vs Sweet Potatoes: Can You Substitute One For The Other?

When you're missing an ingredient for a recipe, you look for substitutes. However, you'll want to use something similar to the ingredient you're replacing. At some point, you might find yourself thinking about using yams as a substitute for sweet potatoes. Is that possible?

Unfortunately, you can't use yams as a substitute for sweet potatoes. They taste different from each other. Yams are starchy and dry. On the other hand, sweet potatoes tend to be moist.

And, as its name implies, sweet potatoes are sweeter than yams.

If you can't use yams for sweet potatoes, what are other substitutes for them? Additionally, what happens if you decide to use yams anyway? These are some of the topics we'll cover in-depth. To learn more, keep reading.

A bowl of sliced Yams, Yams Vs Sweet Potatoes: Can You Substitute One For The Other?

What Is The Difference Between Sweet Potatoes And Yams?

There are a few misconceptions we'll have to clear up. For example, some people tend to give sweet potatoes the name yams. That's where things can get confusing.

So, are sweet potatoes a type of yam? Otherwise, is it the other way around? In other words, are yams a type of sweet potato?

In some parts of the country, people refer to sweet potatoes as yams. It's mostly the south that refers to them that way. There are several reasons people use the names interchangeably.

Some think the names became interchangeable because sellers confused the two products. So, they'd label sweet potatoes as yams and yams as sweet potatoes. The name stuck, and the rest is history.

The True Yam

However, the true yam doesn't look like a sweet potato. If yams and sweet potatoes are in front of you, it'd be easy to tell the difference.

Three sliced yams on a white background

Take a look at the African yam. The skin is dark and bark-like. On the inside, it's dry and starchy.

In addition, once you cook it, yams aren't too sweet. They resemble potatoes more than they do sweet potatoes. So, they're starchier and potato-like.

The size is where things can get confusing. Yams usually vary in size. Some are the shape and size of a potato. But, they can grow up to five feet long and weigh 100 pounds!

Sliced yam on the chopping board

Generally, African yams are difficult to find in your typical supermarket. So, if you see a yam isle, there's a good chance that they're sweet potatoes. More specifically, they might be referring to the Beauregard sweet potato.

It's the type of sweet potato you're likely most familiar with. It's generally sweeter than other variations and has orange flesh. You can find true yams in specialty stores.

The Caribbean or African food markets will usually carry them.

The Flavor

If you manage to find a yam, it can't replace a sweet potato for a few reasons. First, you have to consider the flavor. As mentioned, they're potato-like. They tend to have an earthy, neutral flavor.

And, if you use seasonings on a dish, yams will mostly taste like the seasoning. So, you'll have to consider its purpose. Sweet potatoes are present in recipes for their sweetness. Yams are a more versatile case.

The Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable that many people enjoy. They come in different varieties. The standard one you'll see in stores would be the one with orange flesh.

However, there are sweet potatoes that also have yellow or purple flesh. The two variations that stores will label as yams are the Beauregard and the Japanese sweet potatoes.

Root crops on a white background

The Beauregard sweet potatoes have orange flesh. The Japanese ones have white flesh that turns buttery yellow.

The Flavor

The Beauregard sweet potato tends to be one of the more moist options. It's slightly sweet, but it's not overwhelming. You can easily alter the flavor of sweet potato through cooking methods.

So, if you were to replace sweet potato with yam in a recipe, you'll likely notice the difference. How big of a difference it makes is up to you. Just keep in mind that it won't taste the same.

Use yam as a replacement at the risk of ruining the recipe. Otherwise, it might be a better fit! Of course, that depends on what you're cooking.

What Can You Substitute For Sweet Potatoes?

If you're looking for a substitute that can act as a sweet potato, you're in luck! Although yams aren't a good substitute, there are plenty of other options you should consider.

It all depends on what you have at hand. Do you need something that has a similar texture and flavor? You can consider using butternut squash as a substitute.

Butternut squash has a similar orange flesh. However, texture-wise, it can be more stringy and mushy. Flavor-wise, butternut squash also tends to be more subtle. It's slightly sweet.

But, it tends to lean more on the neutral side.


Neatly sliced squash on a white background

If butternut squash isn't your type of thing, what about pumpkin? Sweet potatoes are commonly used as a substitute for pumpkin in recipes.

But, if you don't have sweet potato, you can probably use pumpkin as a replacement.

Of course, they won't taste the same. However, pumpkins and sweet potatoes have similar textures and colors! Still, it depends on what you're making.

If you thought about making a sweet potato pie, why not turn it into a pumpkin pie? It would be an easy switch to make!

Kabocha Squash

Two slices of Square on a white background

Some people like the sweet flavor that sweet potatoes bring to a dish. So, if you want nearly the same taste, you can try out Kabocha squash.

Many love it as a low-carbohydrate substitute. Flavor-wise, you could describe it as a blend between sweet potato and pumpkin. Generally, it's sweet and nutty.

Like sweet potato, you can prepare Kabocha squash in various ways. Use it in recipes that require roasting, purée, and baking. It's one of the best candidates to use in place of sweet potato.


Sliced sweet potato on a white background

Carrots are a wild card substitute. Sure, it's not going to be as mushy as a sweet potato. The flavors are not the same either.

However, they can be sweet and delicious in their own way. If you're following a recipe that requires roasting a sweet potato, carrots can be a decent replacement.

When you roast a carrot, it caramelizes and gains a more concentrated flavor. It's a different kind of sweet. Still, it's worth giving it a try for roasting.

If you're steaming the carrots, the squashes would be the better choice.

Golden Beets

A delicious golden beets

Another sweet substitute would be golden beets. They're sweeter than their red counterparts. In addition, golden beets are frequently paired with sweet potatoes in salads.

You can use them in recipes that require baking, steaming, or boiling. Though, keep in mind that beets aren't as starchy as sweet potatoes. So, there will be a difference.

It's not the best substitute, but it's one to consider.

Which Are Better: Yams Or Sweet Potatoes?

You're referring to a specific sweet potato when you mention yams in the US. More specifically, it's the Beauregard sweet potato. Another one rising in popularity is the Japanese yam.

It's another sweet potato that has purple skin and white flesh. Yes, these potatoes do have a noticeable difference besides color. Beauregard's are the juiciest and stringiest of them all.

Okinawa sweet potatoes, the purple-fleshed kind, are extra dry and starchy. Flavor-wise, they hold an earthy, sweet taste.

The Satsuma-Imo sweet potato, Japanese yam, is one of the best. It's sweet and slightly nutty. Additionally, Japanese yams are not overwhelmingly starchy as others.

Depending on the dish, they can become creamy and smooth. As you can see, you can't determine which is better. Yams and sweet potatoes are versatile. It's a matter of personal preference.

What Can You Do With Yam?

What if you're interested in cooking with the true yam? If that's the case, you'll need to look for one in a specialty store. As mentioned, they're nothing like the sweet potato in the US.

However, it is a versatile ingredient. Some would describe it as a blank canvas that you could do anything with. You can use yams in many situations.

If you'd like to boil the yam, slice it beforehand. Then, cook it and serve with sauce or gravy. When you're thinking about trying something new, consider making Amala. It is an indigenous Yoruba dish.

Another dish you can consider making is Fufu. It's a West-African meal. Otherwise, treat it like a potato. Make yam fries, wedges, or chips. People who like porridge can also mash it to make a yam porridge.

In Closing

A bowl of sliced Yams

Choosing a substitute for an ingredient can make or break a recipe. It's not going to be easy to replace a sweet potato. Especially not with the true yam. However, some alternatives could do a decent job. We hope you found the information above helpful!

Before you go, are you looking to substitute ingredients in other recipes? What about quiche? If you need a substitute for milk, check out:

What Can I Substitute For Milk In Quiche?

Are you making mashed potatoes? You need milk in that too! However, if you need a substitute, check out:

What To Substitute For Milk In Mashed Potatoes?

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