Here's Why Some Sweet Potatoes Are White

Sweet potatoes or yams come in a variety of hues beyond that intense shade of orange or our favorite sweet potato fries. Some sweet potatoes are white, orange, yellow, and some are even purple, according to culinary scientist Jessica Gavin. The color of the sweet potato varies depending on the variety. You may notice that sometimes people use the terms yam and sweet potato interchangeably, Gavin claims your grocery store likely doesn't actually have true yams.

One theory is that the origin of the name "yam" comes from variations of the verb yam, nyami, or nyambi which means "to eat" or taste in several West African dialects. Enslaved Africans likely applied the word to sweet potatoes due to its similarities to the yams found throughout much of West Africa (per The Ringer). But as they say, a sweet potato by another name is still just as sweet. While the exact origin is unclear, the nickname stuck and in the 1930s Louisiana sweet potato marketed their product as yams.

Different types of sweet potatoes have different uses. You may want to use vivid orange sweet potatoes in a baked Cajun sweet potato fries recipe, but the lighter-colored sweet potatoes are also delicious. Still, you may wonder why some sweet potatoes are white.

White sweet potatoes lack beta-carotene

The most vividly colored orange sweet potatoes (sometimes sold as yams) get their bright hue from beta-carotene which is a precursor to Vitamin A, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Other fruits and vegetables rich in beta-carotene include carrots, cantaloupe, red bell pepper, and mango, perĀ My Food Data. Notice that these foods typically have an orange or red color.

Most white sweet potatoes contain 6 micrograms of beta-carotene compared to an orange sweet potato's load of more than 8,500 micrograms, according to The Kitchn. Some varieties of sweet potatoes that have white flesh are the Boniato or Cuban sweet potato and the satsuma-imo or Japanese sweet potato. However, the color isn't the only difference.

Understanding the differences between orange and white sweet potatoes may help you choose the best options for your meal. According to Southern Living, the white sweet potato isn't as sweet and has a drier and more crumbly texture than the orange sweet potato. While it tastes like a mild-flavored sweet potato you can use them in some of the same ways as standard potatoes including thisĀ simple baked sweet potatoes recipe.