Types of Potatoes

Growing your own potatoes? You should know that a ‘tater isn’t just a spud – there are several different types of potatoes, each with predictable characteristics, plus many varieties of each.
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How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

Joe Lamp'l shows how to plant, grow and harvest potatoes.

How many types of potatoes are there? There are thousands of varieties of potatoes worldwide, with dozens commonly available for gardeners to grow.

Note: This article does not address sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) or yams, which are tropical tubers with a much higher sugar content and are grown in warm climates or seasons.

While all true “Irish” potatoes are grown basically the same way, there are variations between different kinds of potatoes, including in plant productivity and disease resistance, and the shape, size, color, and cooking quality of the tubers.

Six Basic Types

The basic types of potatoes, each with many varieties, are: Russet, yellow, red, white, blue, and fingerling. Each has certain characteristics which make them better for different cooking methods. Keep in mind that there are countless dozens of heirloom varieties available in limited quantities which are largely not available for sale in supermarkets – but they are easy to grow and enjoy yourself.

When choosing different types of potatoes, keep in mind that they are categorized loosely based on starch content. The three basic groups are starchy, waxy, and medium or all-purpose; those with more starch are more mealy or floury; those with less starch are more waxy and firm.

In general, if you want to bake or fry the tubers, choose potato varieties which are high in starch and have very soft texture when cooked; they are also good for mashing as long as you don’t overdo it and make them mushy. Those with lower starch content, which gives them a more waxy texture, work well in soups, stews, potato salad, and scalloped or roasted.

Important: Potatoes which have been exposed to a lot of light or stored too cool or too warm can develop a green color and taste bitter, which usually indicates a high content of “solanine” – a poisonous alkaloid. Avoid eating them, or at least peel away all the skin and green color, and especially any sprouted “eyes.”

Russet (starchy)

Russets are the classic “Idaho” potatoes with thick brown skin, often used for baking, frying, and mashing. Russets are low in moisture and tend to dry a bit when cooked, so most cooks add milk or butter when mashing. Good Varieties: Russet Burbank, German Butterball.

Yellow (all purpose)

Yellow potatoes are all-purpose potatoes perfect for mashing, steaming, boiling, baking, roasting, and frying. Good Varieties: Inca Gold, Mountain Rose, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn.

Red (waxy)

Red potatoes are firm and excellent for potato salads and soups, and for steaming, boiling, roasting, making au gratin, scalloped, and salads. Good Varieties: Norland, Klondike Rose, Red Pontiac, Cranberry Red, Mountain Rose.

White (waxy)

White potatoes are low in starch and are excellent for boiling, potato salad, mashing, steaming, making au gratin, and roasting. Good Varieties: White Rose, Cal White.

Blue (all purpose)

Blue potatoes, also known as purple potatoes because of their high antioxidant which turns purplish when cooked, have medium starch and are great for steaming, baking, and boiling. Good Varieties: Russian Blue, All Blue, Purple Cream of the Crop, Peruvian, Purple Majesty.

Fingerling (waxy)

“Finger potatoes” are typically the size and shape of a finger. Because of their small size and sometimes different colored skin and flesh colors, they are ideal as side dishes. Most have a mild, somewhat nutty flavor best enjoyed when baked or roasted, and even boiled - but they tend to fall apart in soups. Good Varieties: French Fingerling, Austrian Crescent, Russian Banana.

New Potatoes (All purpose)

 “New”potatoes are any kind that's harvested while small, before their sugars have fully converted to starch and their skins are still thin. They are typically sweet, firm, creamy and very waxy. Use them for boiling, steaming, roasting or in soups, but not for baking.

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