Potatoes - one of the world’s staple starches - this versatile tuber can be handled and transformed in so many ways. While there are more than 200 varieties in the USA alone and 4,000/5,000 in the whole world, each of those falls into one of the 7 different types: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling, and petite. Each falls into one of the three textural categories, used for a different purpose - starchy, waxy, and all-purpose. Keep on reading for an in-depth guide to everyone’s favourite vegetable.
The 3 main categories of potato
Starchy potatoes are good for baking and frying, high in starch and low in moisture. With an absorbent and fluffy texture, it means they can easily absorb fats, dairy, and other flavours. If you’re unsure whether the potato you have is a starchy one, try pricking it: a starchy potato will release a milky liquid. These are perfect for baked potatoes, hash browns or frying for crispy potatoes. Although if you’re mashing do be careful to not overwork them as they can turn gluey.
Waxy potatoes are the opposite - they are lower in starch with more moisture and high sugar content. They have a firmer and more smooth texture, meaning they can handle being boiled and cut into small pieces and won’t release a starchy liquid. These are good for adding into stews, potato salads, and thinly sliced for potato gratins and scalloped potatoes.
All-purpose potatoes are a middle ground, with less starch than starchy potatoes but not quite as firm as waxy ones. These can be used for most potato dishes.
Often maligned by health enthusiasts, potatoes are packed with nutrients like potassium, vitamins C and B6, and fibre, making them great additions to your diet. They’re full of complex carbohydrates and very low in fat, a great and filling alternative to gluten-rich pastas or breads. Aside from cooking, potatoes can even be used to generate electricity... Although we wouldn’t recommend powering your house with them.
Russets are the most common type of potato you’ll find in the supermarket, and are also known as Idaho potatoes in the USA. They’re the most widely cultivated potato in North America, and McDonald’s choice favourite. Brown, large, and with a thick skin, these are the floury types you’ll turn to for baking and mashing. Their large size makes them perfect for topping with sour cream or cheesy beans, or turning into hasselback stuffed dishes.
Red potatoes are the most common type of waxy potato. Their red skins are full of nutrients, so opt for organic potatoes and keep the skin on when preparing. Red potatoes in particular have more potassium per serving than any other fruit or vegetable, even bananas. They’re also less calorific than the classic russet, with a bit more vitamin K and niacin. They’ll withstand being boiled and pan-fried, with a creamy and smooth texture and a lightly sweet taste. Perfect for adding into a pot roast stew or a potato salad, with a thin skin that adds a pleasant bite.
White potatoes have a pale white flesh and thin skin with a medium starch level, an all-purpose type that is similar to but slightly denser than a russet. They still hold their shape well, making them suitable for everything from mashing to salads. White potatoes in particular get a bad rap, but as with all whole foods, eating them in a close-to-natural state when they’ve retained their nutritional value makes them a welcome addition to any diet (although they can increase your blood sugar in high levels, so moderation is advised).
Yellow potatoes are another waxy variety with an almost velvety and buttery texture, and lightly sweet. The skin gets crispy which is a beautiful contrast to the buttery flesh, making yellow potatoes a great option for grilling or roasting. Common varieties include Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, German Butterball, and Carola potatoes.
Purple, or blue potatoes, are not only visually striking but also packed with antioxidants, like most other blue or purple foods. They’re all-purpose with slightly more firm flesh and a nutty and earthy flavour, perfect for tons of applications from baking to grilling.
These small potatoes are the choice option for pan-frying or roasting up. With a generally waxy and firm flesh, and ranging in colour and veined appearance, fingerlings are a popular selection if you want to impress guests at a dinner party.
Petite potatoes aren’t actually a type, but rather a smaller version of one of the categories above. Because of the smaller size, they’ll be more concentrated in flavour, and like fingerlings, are a lovely choice for frying and using in salads. And because of their small size, you’ll save on prep time.
Sweet potatoes, although called potatoes, aren’t actually part of the same family. While regular potatoes are classified as tubers, sweet potatoes are root vegetables and part of the nightshade family. They’re rather different in texture and density, as well as nutritional composition. And don’t confuse them with yams either. Real yams are an entirely different vegetable with a starchy and dense flesh and a bark-like skin, in contrast to the sweet potatoes' sweet and soft interior. However, most 'yams' in American grocery stores are actually just orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, which is most likely where the confusion arises.
How to store your potatoes
No matter what hue, shape, or size of potato strikes your fancy, there are some universal rules for storing the tuber to make it stay fresh longer. The number one guideline is to keep potatoes in a dark place (if you have a spooky root cellar, perfect, otherwise a dark cupboard or pantry will have to do). Potatoes exposed to sunlight start getting ready to sprout and actually develop a poisonous compound called solanine to fend off hungry critters. The tuber turns green when solanine is present. Also, keep your taters dry by storing them in a basket, bowl, or paper bag rather than a plastic bag, and by keeping them out of the fridge.
There’s a myriad of ways to use up potatoes, including when they’re already cooked. If you have too many leftover mashed potatoes, look at these recipes for inspiration.
Tired of basic mashed or roasted potatoes? Then have a look at how Michelin chefs like to cook their potatoes, and try your hand at these expert recipes.