Certain types of potatoes are best for baking. Others are best suited for boiling, making into French fries, chips, salads, or even casseroles. Ultimately, the variety you choose will have a major impact on the taste and quality of your potato dishes. The differences are less about size, color, and time to maturity, and more about the starch content of the tuber.
Starch Content and End Use
A potato's starch to moisture ratio affects its taste and texture when you cook it, so it's important to consider the end use of your potato crop before selecting a variety to grow. Will you be mostly boiling, baking, mashing, or making French fries? A high-starch/low-moisture variety will have a drier, flakier texture. They are the best choices for french fries, roasted potatoes, and mashed potatoes, but because of their low moisture content, will take on liquids and fall apart in soups and stews. Potatoes containing a medium amount of starch are considered "all-purpose" potatoes. They hold their shape better than high-starch varieties, yet share some of the same traits.
Gardening Practices Can Affect Quality
Certain gardening practices can greatly affect the size and taste of your potato crop. Crops that are heavily fertilized with nitrogen tend to produce more foliage and less potatoes. The potatoes will also be more prone to discoloration both before and after cooking. Potatoes stored in cold temperatures after harvest, such as in a refrigerator, will taste too sweet. This is because excessive cold causes some of the potato's starch to convert to sugar.
Potato Varieties and Their Uses
- Russet (high starch/low-moisture): The most widely used variety in the US, Russets are perfect for baking, mashing, frying, and roasting.
- Red (low starch/high moisture): Red potato varieties are great for boiling, steaming, roasting, sauteing, casseroles, soups, and salads.
- White (medium starch): Known as the "all-purpose" potatoes. Use them for boiling, steaming, mashing, french fries, roasting, casseroles, soups, and salads.
- Blue/Purple (medium starch): The flesh of these South American natives fades when cooked. Boil, steam, bake, or microwave them.
- Yellow (medium starch): Yellows have a dense creamy texture and buttery flavor. They are excellent for baking, boiling, mashing or roasting.
- Fingerling (low starch/high-moisture): Fingerlings are often thought of as "gourmet" varieties. Boil, bake,or steam them.
- New potatoes (of most varieties): New potatoes are nearly 90% water and less than 10% starch. They act like waxy potatoes, in that they hold up well for boiling and for use in soups and salads.
Where to Find Quality Seed Potatoes
While nurseries and garden centers may offer a few types of potatoes for planting in spring, you'll find a wider variety if you order by mail or over the Internet. Some companies even include "rainbow" collections consisting of red, white, and blue varieties, which allow you to experience the best of all worlds. Look for whole seed potatoes, which have a longer pre-planting shelf life and are said to produce up to 20% more than precut sets.
To Peel or Not to Peel?
Nutritionists recommend leaving the skin on when cooking potatoes, to preserve the nutrient packed layer that lies just beneath the skin's surface. If you like your potatoes peeled and boiled, consider saving the water you cooked them in to use on your houseplants. Potato water is loaded with the nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other minor elements that plants love.