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The Versatile Potato

The potato is one of the world’s favorite foods, beloved for its versatility and adaptability for all types of potato recipes. In the United States, it is a staple at home on our tables and in restaurants. The potato can be cooked in a variety of ways from boiled or baked, to steamed, roasted, microwaved or fried. There are many commercial products on the market such as potato chips or instant mashed potatoes and you can find a multitude of frozen varieties in your supermarket from French fries to hash browns to frozen mashed potatoes. And the fast food world has found many unique ways to deep fry America’s favorite vegetable.

There are an astounding variety of potatoes in many colors, including brown, white, pink, yellow, blue, purple, orange and more. Shapes vary from very large and heavy to delicate fingerlings and new or baby potatoes. Most of these still fall into three basic categories: starchy, waxy and in-between, all purpose potatoes. You can find basic varieties of each type at most supermarkets, and at farmer’s markets you can often find additional or unique varieties.

Starchy potatoes are often used in potato recipes that call for baking, frying or mashing. Russet is a common variety of starchy potato. With their high starch content they tend to break apart when cooked but their absorbent texture makes them a great base for toppings like butter or sour cream. They are the most popular choice for French fries because their oblong shape can be cut into long thick sticks.

Waxy potatoes have a smoother, thinner skin and tend to hold their shape better when cooked due to their lower starch content. The most common type you can find in the supermarket are red-skinned and white-skinned. They are delicious in potato soup, stews and potato salad and in baked, scalloped or au gratin potatoes.

All-purpose potatoes have medium starch content and can be used in most potato recipes. When cooked, they won’t fall apart as much as a starchier potato. Oblong white potatoes and Yukon gold potatoes are common in supermarkets. Yukon gold potatoes have become very popular due to their creamy yellow flesh and nutty flavor when baked or roasted.

When buying potatoes, choose firm, plump potatoes and avoid any that have shriveled skins, sprouting “eyes”, soft spots or green spots. The green spots are a result of the potato being exposed to too much light, developing a mild toxin called solanine which can cause bitter flavor. If you find some green spots on your potatoes, be sure to scrape or cut that part away before cooking. Store potatoes in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. It’s best to remove them from plastic bags and store them in a basket or something that allows air circulation. Don’t refrigerate potatoes as refrigeration converts some of the potato’s starch to sugar and potatoes will become sweet and turn dark when cooked. Potatoes should keep for up to two weeks in cool temperatures.

The skin of the potato is edible so peeling them or not is often a matter of personal preference or recipe choice. If you leave the skins on, scrub the potatoes well with a vegetable brush under cold running water. Remove eyes and any green spots. If you peel your potatoes, place them in a bowl of cold water immediately after peeling to prevent the outer surface of the potato from discoloring.

Potato salad is one of summer’s most popular dishes. The choice of potatoes to use often depends on your recipe. If you favor a classic style recipe such as this Creamy Potato Salad, you will probably use small red potatoes with a waxier texture. New potatoes work well in many potato salad recipes. Some potato salad recipes call for extra vegetables, letting you add delicious in-season touches. Try Potato, Green Bean and Tomato Salad for a fresh change of pace. For a delicious one-pan hot potato salad that can almost be dinner, try Easy Hot German Potato Salad. It uses round white potatoes that are less starchy than russets and incorporates bacon bits for extra flavor.

The versatile potato has a place at every table. No matter what your tastes, you’ll find many more interesting versions of potato salad and other potato recipes at

This article was written by LoAnn M., consultant in the Land O’Lakes Test Kitchen.


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