Sweet Potatoes vs Yams vs Taro vs Yuca

Mostly, I’m writing this post about the differences between sweet potatoes and yams and taro and yuca because I need to get it straight myself! You can watch the video on YouTube!

Sweet Potatoes

True (botanical) Sweet Potatoes are pictured below. Alternate names are kumara (New Zealand) camote (Mexico) and yam (USA). There are several varieties/colors of varying levels of sweetness and moistness. They are all in the genus Ipomoea, family Convolvulaceae, or the morning glory family. Sweet potatoes are native to tropical America. In the picture left to right: New Jersey Sweet Potatoes (aka White Sweet Potato, aka Yellow Jersey) Purple Sweet Potato (aka Stokes Purple) and Garnet Sweet Potato (these are colloquially known as yams in the US). Other varieties not pictures are Japanese Sweet Potato (purple skin with creamy white interior) Jewel and Beauregard (both similar in appearance to Garnet). I find the purple sweet potatoes are the sweetest; Jersey sweet potatoes are the mildest and driest; all can be used in any recipe calling for sweet potatoes.

Try butter-roasted sweet potatoes; sweet potato salad; twice-baked sweet potatoes or simply dice and roast in the oven for an easy side dish.

sweet potato varieties


Dice, oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 425ºF for 15-20 minutes

roasted sweet potatoes


True botanical Yams are pictured below. These are genus Dioscoreaceae and are native to tropical and temperate Africa, Asia and Oceana. The one below is Dioscorea japonica, or naga-imo in Japanese. Again, there are many varieties and many, many names for each different species, which make this discussion especially confusing. As I understand it, true yams can be identified by their hair. Unlike the mostly smooth skin of the sweet potatoes above, yams are covered in “root hairs” and are frankly a little ugly. Naga-imo (also labeled sometimes incorrectly as yama-imo) can be eaten raw but most should be cooked to neutralize an irritating acid. They are all a little slimy inside, similar to okra. Mountain Yam are grated raw and used as a binding agent in Japanese okonomiyaki pancakes and also added to soups and soba noodles.

japanese yam


Taro (Colocasia esculenta) is also called Ñame or Malanga in Latin America, Kalo in Hawaii, Gabi in the Philippines and Inhame in Brazil. To confuse things more, those names all translate to “yam” in English! Some taro are purple inside and some are white, but they all are brown and scaly and rough on the outside. Taro is used to make poi in Hawaii by pounding roasted taro with water until it becomes pudding-like. In many places it is boiled and mashed like you would potatoes. Taro chips, taro soup, taro bread. You can find taro ice cream and frozen yogurt, too. Taro can irritate your skin so wear gloves if you are sensitive, or just wash your hands after cutting it. Taro is slightly sweet and once cooked has a pasty consistency.



Yuca root is also known as cassava, manioc, or arrowroot. It is unrelated to the flowering yucca plants found in landscapes across the Southwest. Yuca roots have a thick “bark” that must be removed before cooking and some larger roots have a woody core in the center that is best to be cut out, also. Yuca is starchy and is a staple food for many cultures because it is drought tolerant and will grow even in exhausted soil. It can be fried like French fries, mashed like potatoes, or dried and ground into flour. The flavor is slightly sweet, similar to taro. Due to cyanide-like toxins, yuca must be cooked before eating. Try this recipe for yuca fries or yuca fritters.

yuca root

Image credit: Wikipedia


  1. pat Soltis on November 10, 2016 at 4:51 pm


    I have Nigerian friends, so I’ve eaten yuca (sweet cassava) on several occasions. They also make a dry meal, almost a flour, out of the ground cassava. From the cassava meal they make a stiff paste (“gari”) which accompanies all kinds of spicy stews — beef, pork, seafood. You make a little ball of gari in your hand, then use it to pick up a piece of someting from the stew.

    I’ve also made the equivalent of “potato” chips from yuca and taro.

    Many years ago there was a Cuban restaurant on Franklin Street in Covington, Kentucky. I remember pigs’ feet with minced ham and chickpeas. Talked with the chef/owner in Spanish. He insisted that I try steamed yuca and notice how the flavor is different from potatoes.

    Best to you, Chris, and as always, especially, Flint,


    • Nate on May 11, 2018 at 9:17 am

      That flour they make from the cassava is called ‘tapioca’. It’s popular in the US to make pudding from it, and in Taiwan, they put balls of it in tea and call it ‘bubble tea’.

      • Mike on January 20, 2020 at 7:18 pm

        Bubble tea, boba, is also wildly popular in the US. I’ve eaten yuca many many times at pollo places and other restaurants. Ive drank taro in bubble tea and eaten it in chips more times than I can count (at least up to 20, out of fingers n toes after that).

        All of these starchy “alternative” roots are incredibly common in the US and many supermarkets near me sell all of them.

      • Judith on July 31, 2020 at 6:53 am

        Please note the flour that is made from cassava root is CASSAVA FLOUR and NOT tapioca flour.
        Both products come from the same plant BUT cassava flour is made from the dried and ground WHOLE cassava/ yuca root whereas Tapioca ‘flour’ (more correctly referred to as tapioca starch) is made only from the starch after it is extracted from the root. This requires an entirely different process. (see Wikepedia & other scientifically based sources).

      • Judith Burgess on March 23, 2022 at 6:27 pm

        Sorry Nate but you are incorrect: Flour made from the Cassava plant is CASSAVA flour which is made from the WHOLE root and different from tapioca.
        Both products do come from the same plant BUT TAPIOCA is made by extracting and drying only the starch from the root.
        Both are quite distinct from ARROWROOT which is made from a starchy substance extracted from a tropical plant known as Maranta arundinacea. This plant is different from Yuca / Manioc / Taro.
        Hope this clears up the confusion for USA cooks.
        JayBee (Melb. Australia)

  2. Miriam on September 18, 2017 at 2:03 am

    Thanks for this. It’s about time someone pointed this out. Very clear. Hopefully I won’t forget. I’ll stick to potatoes & sweet potatoes :p.

    • Hilah on September 18, 2017 at 7:12 am

      Glad you found it helpful, Miriam!

  3. georgi marquisee on November 8, 2017 at 12:49 pm

    Nice summary, especially with the good photos! Many thanks…

    • Hilah on November 10, 2017 at 11:15 am

      Thank you, Georgi!

  4. Rosemary on January 8, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Really interesting and helpful. Great photos. I’m going out to buy taro and try it on my grandkiddies who are coming to dinner.

    • Wil on September 3, 2022 at 6:31 pm

      I’m so confused.

  5. waldir desouzajunior on March 4, 2019 at 11:24 am

    i am brazilian and i like mandioca because i am accostumed to eat cooked mandioca involved into smashed eggs and in boiled oil or lard fried delicious mandioca slices, or mandioca with meat;mandioca and meat soup,mandioca purée,mandioca cakes,breads pastries,and mandioca chips,(yuca,manioc,cassava,macaxeira and maniçoba and so on) but here in brazil it is known by mandioca,macaxeira,aipim and in north brazil they use a kind or species of mandioca brava (wild quality of yuca called mandioca brava or yuca brava that they prepare a typical feijoada with their leaves,but this species contains strong acid cyanidric concentrated,which they call “MANIÇOBA” and takes an entirelly week recooking their leaves to take out all acid cyanidric,generally for eight days,and so the maniçoba leaves are ready to prepare the maniçoba feijoada,it is dressed with maniçoba ground leaves,charque(jerked beef),fresh and cured neats,fresh and cured sausages,pork loin,bacon and another preparations and estimated popular locals condimentations,so it is said to be second some authors like the true brazillian feijoada,because maniçoba feijoada is also appreciated and popular in other parts of the country like: the recôncavo bahiano,interior of minas gerais,goiás,pará,amazonas,and in some parts of nordeste(north-eastern brazil) and maranhão and piaui.!

    • Micheline on December 2, 2022 at 8:02 am

      You’re so correct about all the delicious dishes we can make with mandioca. I’m also Brazilian , living in the US and my family absolutely love it everything made from yucca. Let not forget about the tradicional (Bobo de camarão ) shrimp soup , is absolutely amazing and easy to make.

  6. Lisa Davidson on February 9, 2020 at 2:57 am

    There is a variant in the West Indies called dasheen, which is such an important staple that the name used to be interchangeable with “food.” Like cassava root, the outer skin and top layer is toxic, so peel thoroughly. The greens are also eaten in stews such as callaloo.

  7. Jennifer on January 4, 2021 at 3:46 pm

    I live in Texas and get so irritated when American call orange potato yam and say yams and sweet potato are the same i don’t want to be a know it all but they are not the same and don’t taste the same. I like yuca chips, mashed yuca, yuca tortillas

  8. Mrs Tuleo Whippy on January 24, 2021 at 11:20 am

    My husband is a Fijian from Vanuatu. They eat all these (US “yams” kamal. Dalo, Kalo, Dasheen is Taro & in some of those islands Yucca is called cassava, Tavioca, Manioc… cooked in coconut milk various ways, these tubers are used like potatoes Here in the US. Look up Laplap amazing dish from Vanuatu! Watching my husband cut the skin/barks off the cassava lengthwise brings back memories of island life. I love all the different recipes from around the world that use these “yams, cassava, dalo even breadfruit”! Yummy

  9. Mr Karlang on February 9, 2021 at 8:27 am

    I think we have that Yam here in PHilippines..
    WE called it karlang …. It’s a good alternative for Gabi (or Taro) for cooking pork stew (Pork sinigang) (though Gabi is still far away better in terms of taste)
    They usually add it to benignit and I don’t like the taste of it because it’s too tasteless . I even encountered people in province who consumed it as snack : they dipped it in sugar to be tasty…they love consuming it as a dessert with sugar on it….. Me, I prefer it the other way around, seasoning it with salt and using it for meal rather than snack…

  10. marguerite on August 28, 2021 at 7:08 pm

    great post, thank you!

  11. Marvin Wass on February 20, 2022 at 12:46 am

    Came looking for calorie foods and ended up learning so much more…I had no idea what these plants were really called. I appreciate your expertise and patience in putting up this piece.

    • Hilah on March 27, 2022 at 6:52 am

      I’m glad it was helpful, Marvin!

      • Rinshin on March 30, 2022 at 4:24 pm

        Nagaimo that you call yam can be eaten raw for sure as that is the way Japanese most often eat it. Often grated with skin off to put into kake soba soup. It is one of the favored way to eat soba noodle. It is also very tasty skin off and sliced into baton size with ponzu as a side to rice or with drinks. It is also consumed to help with constipation. Another variety is yamato imo more prized than nagaimo and has a stubby wide one end unlike nagaimo.

        • Hilah on April 11, 2022 at 7:45 am

          Thank you for the additional information, Rinshin!

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