Have you ever cruised the supermarket and wondered about the difference between a jelly and a jam, a cornish game hen and a chicken, a sweet potato and a yam? We have.

Have we ever thought about it beyond more than the passing turn of the cart down the aisle? No. Not really.

Recently, the writing up of our baked sweet potato fry recipe inspired us to do a little research into solving the yam and sweet potato mystery. Since Thanksgiving is next week we think it’s timely to share our findings.

According to the Library of Congress, yams and sweet potatoes are from different families of plants:

Although yams and sweet potatoes are both angiosperms (flowering plants), they are not related botanically. Yams are a monocot (a plant having one embryonic seed leaf) and from the Dioscoreaceae or Yam family. Sweet Potatoes, often called ‘yams’, are a dicot (a plant having two embryonic seed leaves) and are from the Convolvulacea or morning glory family.

Due to very confusing USDA labeling regulations (the history of which is convoluted and boring), almost all potatoes labeled as yams are in fact sweet potatoes.  “Real” yams are drier and starchier than the sweet potatoes we buy labeled as yams (we told you it was confusing).

So, as you’re shopping this Thanksgiving and are wondering which to buy– yam or sweet potato– know that all those boxes stacked high and labeled as yams, garnet yams, sweet potatoes, white sweet potatoes, etc. are really all the same. They are sweet potatoes– just different varieties.

This begs the question: which sweet potato to buy?

The Texas Cooperative Extension Aggie Horticulture Network, advises buying sweet potatoes with a deep color for the best food value. (And, don’t forget, sweet potatoes are near the top of the good-for-you-food-hiearchy-of-foods.) For best food flavor they advise storing them in an environment between 55-60 degrees–not the refrigerator.