Types of Potatoes

With about 100 domestic types of potatoes available to the public, it's a little hard to have just one favorite. However, some potatoes work better in some recipes than others, which is why it is important to know your potato.

Potatoes are divided into three general categories: all around good potato, high-starch content potato and low-starch content potato. The perfect baking and mashing potato is a high-starch content potato, such as the Idaho baker or the Russet potato. Red Pontiac potatoes are lower in starch and hold their shape nicely. Because of their great taste, they are also good as bakers or in soups and scalloped dishes.

Potatoes: Varieties and Uses

  • New Potatoes: When recipes refer to new potatoes, they generally mean baby red potatoes, though you can sometimes find small baby white potatoes, too. The term "new potatoes" refers specifically to potatoes that have not reached their mature size. (New potatoes are wonderful when boiled and served with buttermilk or half and half and green onions.)
  • Red Potatoes: Several varieties of potatoes fall into this category. Red Pontiac is a softer potato and does not keep well, though it is available all year long. This potato is great in salads and for roasting, boiling, mashing and steaming. Other reds include Chieftain and Red Gold.
  • White Round Potatoes: This is an all-around good potato. It has a smooth tan jacket, is available year-round and can be used in all potato dishes.
  • Russet Potatoes: Another all-around good potato is purportedly the most widely used potato in the United States today. This potato, also know as the Idaho Baker, is classified as the best potato for baking.
  • Sweet Potatoes (Yam): The sweet potato is a distant cousin to the potato. Yams can be harvested in colors ranging from yellow to orange to purple, and, because of their high fiber content, they are the better choice of potato for diabetics.
  • Yukon Potatoes: This is a great mashed potato and is very flavorful in soups. Yukon Golds are identified by their rich yellow jackets and buttery yellow insides. Yukon Golds retain their characteristic yellow color even when cooked.
  • Fingerling Potatoes: Fingerling potatoes get their name from the finger-like tubers the plant produces. These tubers, ranging in color from white to yellow to pink and red and purple, are tasty, but they don't produce as large a crop as other potato plants.
  • Purple Potatoes: "Papas," as the Incas called them, are the most popular potato in South America today. The purple skin ranges from light blue to dark blue to purple. The color is best preserved when microwaving this vegetable, but it is also tasty when steamed or baked.

Buying Potatoes
Selecting potatoes at the store is less complicated than one might think. If a potato is rotten or going bad, it usually gives off a horrendous smell. Simply lift the bag of potatoes, examine it visually and then hold the bag to your nose and sniff. If there's a bad potato in there, you'll know.

Potatoes should be stored in a dry, cool, dark place. If the temperature is too cold, it will cause the starch in the potato to turn to sugar, giving the potato a sweet taste. Raw potatoes that freeze will turn black. Once they thaw, they will be soft and inedible.

Cooking With Potatoes
Based on the amount of starch a potato contains, different potatoes should be cooked or baked differently. As a general rule, it's wise not to wrap a potato in foil when baking, as that holds in moisture and literally steams the potato. The result is that it will have the texture of a boiled potato. Instead, wash the potato, and place it in the oven as is. When it's done, cut a large X across the top, and then press both sides of the potato inward at the same time. The creamy insides will push out of the opening, showing off what you are about to enjoy.

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