What Are Irish Potatoes?

Irish potatoes are not Irish – they are a type of white potato from South American which are forever associated with an infamous potato-disease famine in Ireland.

How to Grow Potatoes 05:02

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

Irish potatoes are not Irish at all.

The shrubby perennials with edible tubers, grown as cool-weather annuals in rows, raised beds, or containers, are native to the South American Andes. Though introduced to the world by early European explorers only in the past four hundred years, the starchy tubers quickly became one of the world’s most important and nutritious foods, behind only corn, wheat, and rice. All parts of the plants are toxic if eaten, except for the properly-harvested and stored tubers. 

There are thousands of different potato varieties, including many dozens grown widely by commercial farmers and home gardeners alike, with most lumped into groups based on tuber color and starch content. Irish potatoes are typically in the “white potato” group characterized by light tan to cream colored skin, and a white flesh that has a waxy texture due to moderate to low amounts of starch.

They are called Irish potatoes for the simple reason that they were the main type grown in Ireland in the early 1800s, and are forever associated with The Great Irish Famine, one of the worst agricultural, social, and cultural disasters of the time.

Irish Potato Varieties

White Irish potatoes are among the most widely-grown worldwide. The tubers hold their shape when boiled or turned into potato salad, and can be roasted, broiled or fried. However, white potatoes are a little too dense to mash very well without getting gluey.

The Real Irish Potato

The original Irish potato – the one grown so widely in Ireland before the infamous famine - has been identified and bred to be resistant to late blight disease. “Irish Lumper” is a slightly oblong, knobby waxy white potato.

Most rural Irish people grew this potato in abundance because it was heavily productive and stored well through the winter. However, their dependence on this single variety set them up for failure. When a disease called late blight, caused by a fungus-like mold named Phytopthora infestans, devastated the harvest for several years in a row, it led to a major famine that caused approximately one million people to die, another million to leave the island, and a lasting social upheaval.

The improved, disease-resistant Irish Lumper has been making a come-back in the past few years as an heirloom variety, and is now grown by Irish school children in small raised beds for its historic significance as well as its good yields.

Other popular varieties of white potatoes include Kennebec, Superior, Atlantic, Cascade, Snowden, White Elephant, White Rose, Cal White. If you like heirloom varieties, look for Green Mountain, an old kind with highly variable tuber sizes but great flavor.

Next Up

Is a Potato a Vegetable?

Gardeners sometimes get needlessly fussy over technical issues, such as is a potato is a vegetable. The short answer is yes! But even though it grows underground, it is not a root.

Growing Blue Potatoes

Blue potatoes are not just fun-to-grow, interestingly-colored for cooking, but also often have subtle flavors and are very high in antioxidants, making them extra nutritious.

Growing Small Potatoes

Many gardeners love hand-harvesting small, immature potato tubers early in the season from beneath still-growing plants. They tend to be extra sweet and tender.

Growing Waxy Potatoes

Waxy potatoes can be any shape, size, or color, but tend to be relatively low in starch, which causes them to retain their shape when cooked, making them ideal for boiling and chopping, not for mashing or baking.

Growing Fingerling Potatoes

A fingerling potato is grown to maturity like most other potatoes, but comes from a special variety known to produce unusual tubers which are small and long, shaped much like fingers.

Growing Organic Potatoes

Growing organic potatoes requires careful attention to soil preparation, choosing early-producing disease-resistant potato varieties, and following good cultural practices, and using natural fertilizers, crop rotation, row covers, and if necessary, the careful application of organic pesticides.

Growing Yellow Potatoes

Easy-to-grow yellow flesh potatoes are a bit sweeter and have more antioxidants than America’s more popular white fleshed potatoes.

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.

How to Grow First Early Potatoes

Early potatoes, varieties that grow quickly and are harvested while small and tender, save money and time in gardens while providing unique growing and eating experiences. “First earlies” are the cream of the crop.

When Do You Plant Potatoes?

From planting to digging, depending on variety and weather, Irish potatoes take about three or four months to mature, with some early varieties and immature or “new” potatoes harvested a little earlier.

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