We’ve all heard of sweet potato pie and pumpkin pie. But depending on where you live and the cultural traditions you grew up around, you might typically eat only one type.
So, whether you need to choose between this pie at the store or make one for a party, it might get you wondering—what’s the difference between sweet potato pie vs. pumpkin pie?
Sweet potato and pumpkin pies share several similarities, most notably in their appearance. However, they differ in many ways, from their origins to their texture. We’ll help you understand the nuances between these pies so that you know what to expect when eating them.
Similarities Between Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Pies
If you don’t have much experience eating pumpkin or sweet potato pie, it’s easy to confuse them. That’s because they have similar features, including:
- An orange color
- Similar taste (although it depends on the ingredients)
- Relatively similar texture (but the trained tongue knows the difference)
Furthermore, they’re both popular dishes to serve on Thanksgiving day.
Differences Between Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Pies
Sweet potato and pumpkin pie share some similarities, but they have notable differences. They are as follows:
- Sweet potato pie has European origins
- Pumpkin pie has North American origins
- Sweet potato pie has a lightweight filling and sweeter taste
- Pumpkin pies are denser and have more spices
- Sweet potato pie almost always contains fresh vegetables
- Pumpkin pie is good with fresh, pureed, canned, or roasted pumpkins
- Sweet potato pie has a coarser texture
Whereas it’s common to find sweet potato and pumpkin pie on a Thanksgiving menu, you’ll likely only see people serving pumpkin pie at a Halloween party.
A Brief History of Pumpkin and Sweet Potato Pies
When comparing sweet potato pie vs. pumpkin pie, understanding their different pasts will give you a better appreciation for whichever pie you choose to make.
History of Pumpkin Pie
Pumpkin originated in North America, and New Englanders recognized it as a versatile ingredient, using it in stews, to make ale, and, of course, to make pie.
American Cookery was the first cookbook published in the United States. It featured a pumpkin pie recipe, which wasn’t a surprise to locals who already recognized this dessert as part of a classic American dish.
After that, other cookbooks featuring pumpkin pie variations followed. In 1824, Mary Randolph published a book featuring a crust only at the bottom of the pie, followed by a pumpkin pudding filling.
However, it wasn’t until 1827 when Eliza Leslie published a cookbook featuring the open-faced pumpkin pie that so many people know and love today.
During the 19th century, the pumpkin pie process underwent a facelift. The canning industry was booming, so people began replacing the laborious task of cooking pumpkin before preparing it for pie with ready-to-use canned pumpkin. At this point, canned cranberry sauce became a popular dish to serve with pumpkin pie.
Once the early 1960s rolled around, many people opted to purchase frozen pumpkin pie over making them at home, given that women were now part of the workforce.
History of Sweet Potato Pie
Unlike pumpkins, sweet potatoes originated in Peru. In the 16th century, the Spanish sent this newly discovered vegetable from South America to West Africa and Western Europe.
Once sweet potatoes arrived in Europe, they began experimenting with them. Unlike West Africa, which didn’t have an extensive dessert culture, Europeans loved their sweets.
So, they soon discovered that mixing milk, eggs, sugar, and butter with cooked sweet potatoes resulted in a tasty pie.
News about sweet potato pie soon traveled to the Americas. Since sweet potatoes grew better in the south than in the north, this pie was a favorite among people living in the southern United States. During this time, slavery still existed, so enslaved African Americans did the majority of sweet potato pie-making.
As a result, New England loved its pumpkin pie, whereas people in the southern states had an affinity for sweet potato pie.
To this day, it’s common to see this preference play out when you enter a northern versus southern household on Thanksgiving Day in the United States.
Nutrition isn’t at the forefront of most people’s minds when making pie. But in the case of sweet potato and pumpkin pie, both can help you get to your daily nutritional goals.
Of course, eating these vegetables straight is the healthiest way to get your nutrients. Nevertheless, let’s look at the nutrition you can expect to get by including one of these vegetables in your pie.
Sweet Potato’s Nutrition
If you want to make a pie with the highest nutrition possible, sweet potatoes are hands-down the better option. They’re higher in the following items than pumpkins:
- Vitamins C, E, B2, and B9
- Most minerals
Because of a sweet potato’s dense nutrient content, it’s higher in calories than pumpkin.
However, when comparing them vegetable to vegetable (versus pie to pie, given the added ingredients), these are good calories, because without them, sweet potatoes wouldn’t have as many nutrients.
Pumpkins have relatively fewer nutrients than sweet potatoes, which is why they’re lower in calories. However, they still pack a nutritional punch, beating sweet potatoes in the following categories:
- Vitamins A, B1, B5, B6, and K
Don’t let the word “fat” on this list scare you off, though. Both pumpkin and sweet potatoes contain traces of it, so these vegetables are excellent for people following a low-fat diet.
Furthermore, pumpkins are lower on the glycemic index than sweet potatoes, making them the preferred vegetable for people looking to lose weight. Of course, you can’t expect pumpkin pie to help you lose weight, given all the unhealthy (but delicious!) additives that go into it.
The Best Pie for People With Diabetes
If you’re baking a pie for someone with diabetes, the amount of added sugar you put into the pie is the biggest factor in determining which is more suitable.
Although sweet potatoes are naturally sweeter than pumpkin, they contain more fiber, which helps reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Therefore, don’t let the “sweet” in “sweet potato” fool you. The goal is to minimize the amount of sugar that goes into sweet potato or pumpkin pie when cooking for people with diabetes. And if you make the crust using whole wheat flour, the added fiber content will help that much more.
That said, many pumpkin pie recipes are relatively healthier than sweet potato pie recipes. So, if you want a dessert and don’t have the means to find out what ingredients went into the pie making, there’s a higher chance that you’ll consume less sugar by choosing pumpkin pie.
Ingredients That Go Into Sweet Potato and Pumpkin Pies
Given the different flavor and texture profiles of sweet potatoes and pumpkins, the standard ingredients that go into their respective pies have some differences. So, let’s explore the most common items that people mix with them.
Note that we’re only covering the ingredients in the filling. We’ll let you choose the pie crust you want to make, which will work seamlessly with sweet potato and pumpkin pies.
Sweet Potato Pie Ingredients
As mentioned before, we encourage you to prepare sweet potato pie using fresh sweet potatoes for a better flavor.
However, if you opt to use the canned variety, keep in mind that most canned sweet potatoes contain only sweet potatoes and no other ingredients. That’s different from pumpkin, where you can buy the pre-made filling in a can.
Pumpkin Pie Ingredients
- Heavy cream or sweetened condensed milk
- Pumpkin pie spice
Although it appears that pumpkin pie contains fewer ingredients than a sweet potato pie, that’s not the case. Instead, pumpkin pie spice contains several ingredients mixed together, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, and ginger.
Therefore, pumpkin pie contains more spices than sweet potato pie.
Another item we want to bring to your attention is that you may not need to add sugar to your pumpkin mixture. If you’re using a can of pumpkin pie (versus a can of pure pumpkin), it should already come with sugar.
Substituting Pumpkin or Sweet Potato in Pie
If you miscalculated the amount of pumpkin or sweet potato you need to make a pie, it’s okay to substitute a portion of it with the other vegetable. You can do so in a 1:1 ratio.
You can even entirely substitute sweet potato for a pumpkin pie recipe or vice versa. The only thing you should take care of is the amount of sugar you use. Since sweet potatoes are sweeter than pumpkins, you’ll likely want to reduce the amount of sugar if you’re using them in a pumpkin pie recipe.
Mixing Sweet Potato and Pumpkin in the Same Pie
Now that you know the differences between sweet potato pie vs. pumpkin pie, here’s the good news: If you can’t decide between the two, you can make a single pie that includes both vegetables.
By doing so, you’ll benefit from sweet potato’s rich texture while savoring the creaminess of pumpkin. When preparing a sweet potato and pumpkin pie combination, we recommend roasting both vegetables.
That way, they’ll have an equally rich flavor. Otherwise, if you use the fresh version of one vegetable and a canned version of another, your pie could end up tasting more like the freshly roasted one.
When making a combined sweet potato and pumpkin pie, you can get as creative as you’d like with mixing and matching flavor profiles from these traditional, single vegetable pies. However, if you’re not an adventurous cook, you can’t go wrong with using the following ingredients:
- Pumpkin pie spice
- Evaporated milk
A Note on Yams
It’s common for people to interchange the words “sweet potato” and “yam.” However, these aren’t the same vegetable—they’re not even in the same family.
Yams have a dryer and starchier texture than sweet potatoes. They also have a rough, bark-like exterior, whereas sweet potatoes have a smooth, reddish-brown color.
Unlike yams, which are tubers, sweet potatoes are a root vegetable that belongs to the morning glory family. Sweet potatoes are widely grown in the Americas, whereas yams are more common in African dishes.
Are Yams a Good Substitute for Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Pie?
No, you shouldn’t attempt to use yams if you’re out of sweet potatoes or pumpkin for your pie.
That’s because, unlike pumpkins and sweet potatoes, which share a relatively similar texture and sweetness, yams will create a dryer, less flavorful pie.
If you’re still not convinced, picture using a regular potato to substitute for sweet potato or pumpkin pie. You can imagine how offputting its starchy, bland flavor would be, right?
So, save yams for a savory dish and stick to using sweet potato and pumpkin to replace each other if you run out of pie filling.
Sweet Potato or Pumpkin Pie: What’ll It Be?
When comparing sweet potato pie vs. pumpkin pie, there are enough differences where most people prefer one of these desserts over the other.
So, the only way to know is to try both of them and decide for yourself.
Regardless of which pie you choose as your favorite, you’ll be partaking in eating a dessert with a long history, you’ll get some nutrients, and you’ll give yourself and your loved ones lots of smiles.