Potatoes are surely one of the most versatile ingredients on the planet. They can be boiled or fried, sautéed or mashed, roasted or baked, made into chips, fries or hash browns, a fluffy topping for a cottage pie, or a creamy potato salad, to name but a few of their many uses. There are thousands of different varieties of potato, from small, waxy salad potatoes, to big floury ones that are perfect for baking.
It’s difficult to imagine life without the humble spud, and most people reading this article will have a bag or two in their cupboard or pantry right now. Unlike many other vegetables, they keep fairly well, and there is rarely a rush to eat your potatoes before they spoil. This can mean that we take potatoes for granted, however, and most of us have, at some point or other, forgotten we had them, only to return a week or so later to find them shrivelled and sprouting, or worse still, rotten and slimy.
If this happens to you regularly, it may not be your memory that’s at fault. In fact, you should be able to forget about potatoes for a week or so and come back to them later, but because of the way they’re usually stored, they often don’t keep for as long as they could. Most people are happy if their potatoes last for a few weeks, but stored properly, they can keep for several months. Sounds too good to be true? Follow our simple list of dos and don’ts, and you too can have tasty, sprout-free potatoes that last for months.
Exposing your potatoes to sunlight can cause several problems. Firstly, sunny spots tend to be warm, and this will coax those pesky sprouts into making an appearance. Secondly, sunlight encourages photosynthesis, which in turn causes your potatoes to produce more chlorophyll, turning them an unpleasant green colour.
Finally, exposing potatoes to sunlight can lead to them producing larger amounts of a toxic chemical called solanine. A naturally-occurring cyanide compound, solanine is produced as a deterrent to insects or other animals who might be considering eating the plant, and is always present in potatoes in small, harmless amounts. If overproduced, however, it will make the potatoes taste bitter, and can make you quite ill when consumed in large enough quantities. In most countries, potatoes are strictly controlled to ensure extra-low solanine levels, so becoming ill from eating one is unlikely, but they may still begin to taste bitter if left in the sun for too long.
Keep them cool
Perhaps the thing that most people get wrong when storing potatoes is failing to keep them sufficiently cool. Most of us know to keep them in the dark, but all too often they end up nestled together in a cosy box or bag, so at best they’re at room temperature, and at worst, slightly higher. If you think about it, these dark, warm conditions are pretty close to a potato’s natural growing conditions, and they will quite happily send forth sprouts if you don’t keep them cool enough.
In fact, the perfect temperature for storing potatoes is 45°F to 55°F, which is only slightly above refrigeration temperature. Think garages, sheds, cellars, porches, or the coldest, draftiest spot in your kitchen. Hot spots to avoid include next to the oven, on top of the fridge, or under the sink. In fact, you should also avoid the fridge itself (more on this later), but moving your potatoes somewhere cooler than you have them now is the best way to take them from lasting weeks to lasting months.
Keep them dry
Now you have your potatoes in a cool, dry place, the next thing to do is to make sure they’re dry enough. This includes not washing them until you’re actually going to eat them. A little humidity in the air is fine, and will keep the potatoes from drying out, but any actual beads of water are a no-no. Too much moisture encourages pests, mould and other undesirable organisms, and will make the potatoes more susceptible to rot.
No plastic bags
If your potatoes come in a plastic bag, don’t be tempted to keep them sealed inside for freshness. In fact, plastic bags can trap moisture, creating a damp environment where the potatoes are likely to spoil more quickly, so your best bet is to take them out and store them somewhere else. A paper bag, a small hessian sack or a basket are all good options that allow plenty of air circulation.
No refrigerator or freezer
We’ve already established that colder is better when it comes to potato storage, so it may be surprising to hear that neither the fridge or the freezer are recommended as places to keep potatoes. Firstly fridges and freezers are fairly damp spaces, and may cause premature rotting, but as well as this, temperatures below that sweet spot of 45°F to 55°F can actually be damaging to potatoes. Extra-cold temperatures can cause the potato starches to break down into sugars, giving them an oddly sweet flavour and an unappealing brown colour when cooked.
Keep them alone
Onions, in particular, are often stored in the same basket as potatoes, simply because they’re usually called on to be used in the same recipes. In fact, storing your potatoes in the same container as any other fruit or vegetable is not a great idea, as many produce a gas called ethylene, which encourages other fruits and vegetables nearby to ripen more quickly. This is an advantage for the plant, as it speeds up seed distribution, and it can also be a good thing when you’ve bought an apple or a banana that isn’t quite ripe. On the other hand, it can cause produce to over ripen, and in the case of potatoes, this will make them more susceptible to rot.
Recipes with potatoes
Now you know how to keep them at their best, it’s time to take advantage of those perfect potatoes with one of these mouthwatering potato recipes.
Scalloped potatoes: these deliciously creamy scalloped potatoes come with a crunchy Parmesan breadcrumb topping, and make the perfect side dish for a celebration meal.
Potato croquettes: crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, these tasty croquettes are seasoned with Parmesan and nutmeg, and taste great served with a creamy dip like aioli or sriracha mayo. Serve them as a vegetarian appetiser, or a small tapas plate.
Hasselback potatoes: perfect as a side for your next dinner party, these irresistibly herby, crispy Hasselback potatoes have real fine dining appeal, but are actually pretty simple to make.
Irish potato soup: this warming, nourishing Irish soup is made with simple, flavourful ingredients, and has everything you could possibly want from a soup, down to the crunchy, buttery croutons on top.
Potato and spinach pie: simple but hearty, this tasty vegetarian pie is made with potatoes, spinach and creamy ricotta cheese. Perfect for a lazy brunch or a picnic.
Roast potatoes with chanterelles: this beautifully-flavoured roast vegetable dish is made with slices of potato, meaty chanterelles and sweet peppers with garlic and herbs.
Potato and herb soufflés: get the perfect rise every time with these light and fluffy savoury soufflés.
Fennel and potato gratin with Camembert: this gloriously cheesy gratin is a meal in itself, but you can also serve it as a luxurious side dish at a big celebration meal.
Did you know that there are at least 63 different ways to cook a potato? How many can you name?