This favorite vegetable is actually the underground tuber from many different varieties of potato plants, which belong to the nightshade family. Two main groups – baking and boiling – help narrow the selection, but there are also “all-purpose” potatoes that fall in the middle.
Baking types are higher in starch than boilers; they become fluffy when cooked while boilers remain firm.
Baking (starch potatoes)
Russets – These are the most-purchased vegetable in America and are also referred to as “Idaho.” High starch content makes them ideal for baking, mashing, and frying. They turn mushy in casseroles, gratins, and stews.
Other names commonly seen in produce sections include long white, Russet Burbank, and Russet Arcadia.
Boiling (also known as waxy potatoes)
Red potatoes – Small and firm, they hold their shape well during cooking. Use in potato salads and slice for baking, but do not mash as they will be gummy and shiny. Good in roasts and casseroles.
“New” and “Creamer” Potatoes - These can be of any variety, but are simply smaller and younger with a thin skin. They are best for roasting and steaming. Immature potatoes are higher in moisture and hold less starch. Fingerlings also fall under “new” potatoes because of their size.
These include the names Yukon Gold, Superior, and round white. As the category implies, they can be prepared in any manner, but are best when treated as a boiling potato.
- Avoid potatoes with soft spots or blemishes, a greenish tint, or sprouts.
- Most commercial varieties are treated with a sprout retardant, but are not inspected for disease or pests.
- Consider alternative potato products for convenience or storage: flakes, granules, canned, frozen, and dehydrated. Packaged mixes and potato flour are also available.
- Keep away from sunlight, which turns the skin green and makes the potato bitter.
- Do not refrigerate as the starch in the flesh will convert to sugar.
- Onions and potatoes should never be stored side-by-side.
- Allow for air circulation and potatoes should last at least two weeks.
- Potatoes from produce bins do not freeze well.
- If sprouts have formed, scrape them off. Also, remove off-color spots; some of these contain a mild toxin known as solanine.