The U.S. State That Produces the Most Sweet Potatoes

Holly Riddle

By Holly Riddle

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While sweet potatoes might feel familiar, as they find a place on your holiday table every year, there’s probably a lot that you don’t know about these sweet, orange veggies.

Basket of fresh sweet potatoes after being harvested from the soil, surrounded by live sweet potatoes plants still in the ground.

For example, did you know that they’re not actually potatoes? And that there is a difference between sweet potatoes and yams? And that the same state has produced, by a long shot, the most sweet potatoes since 1971?

Here’s what you need to know, with a fun few facts you can share with the fam at your next holiday dinner.

North Carolina Produces the Most Sweet Potatoes

Welcome to North Carolina road sign in the USA.

North Carolina is by far the biggest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Sweet potatoes were originally discovered by Columbus in the West Indies, and sweet potatoes have been cultivated in the South for centuries, so it just makes sense that these veggies would appreciate the warm soils of North Carolina. The Resource Center further explains that North Carolina grows about 60% of the country’s sweet potatoes all on its own, as the sweet potatoes enjoy the state’s long hot summers and frost-free days. 

However, while North Carolina reigns supreme in sweet potato production, other states are catching up, with rising production over the last 15 years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says California, Mississippi, and Louisiana are all also significant sweet potato growers. 

Potatoes vs. Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

If you’re wondering why sweet potatoes need all those long, hot North Carolina summer days to grow and thrive (when regular potatoes can grow in cooler climates, like in Idaho), it’s worth noting that sweet potatoes and potatoes are very different. Sure, they may look a little similar, but they’re not even related. 

As the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center noted, potatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family (which also includes tomatoes and eggplant), whereas sweet potatoes are in the morning glory family. While they both grow similarly, underground, only the sweet potato is a true tuber. 

Additionally, sweet potatoes and yams aren’t the same either, even though the term “yam” is sometimes used to refer to sweet potatoes. If you see something marketed as a yam in the grocery store, it’s often a mislabeled sweet potato. As the North Carolina Sweet Potatoes Commission shows, yams usually aren’t even orange; they’re white or purple. Yams are a member of the lily family and they don’t grow well at all in the United States, as they require even more tropical conditions than sweet potatoes. They’re also less sweet and starchier than sweet potatoes. 

Ways to Use Sweet Potatoes Beyond the Holidays

Sweet potatoes have been growing in popularity over the last decade or so, and for good reason. Sweet potatoes are filled with health benefits and nutrients, including fiber and vitamins.  

So, if you want to take advantage of all the amazing ways you can use sweet potatoes, beyond just making up a mash for the holiday dinner table, or combining them in a casserole dish with miniature marshmallows and candied pecans, you have lots of options.

Try stuffing your sweet potatoes with lentils and sun-dried tomatoes, or black beans and quinoa. Or, turn them into cinnamon rolls or even a loaf of braided bread