Choosing the Right Potato

Choosing the Right Potato
Choosing the Right Potato

The humble potato, is one of the most basic food staples. Able to be made into any number of foods, from savoury to sweet, everybody should learn how to cook with potatoes.

But, like many things, there are a few subtleties in learning how to cook with potatoes. You can easily become overwhelmed with the variety available.

Heading to the produce section with a shopping list of just “one bag of potatoes,” you quickly will find a veritable buffet of different potato choices. Waxy, Russet, white, yellow, Yukon, Gold, mini-red, sweet, there are so many types of potatoes.

Before you give up and grab the closest and cheapest bag of potatoes, read this article and learn which potatoes are best for your needs.

Why it is Important

Picking the right potato for the job is actually quite important. It is the difference between:

  • creating fluffy mashed potatoes or having it go grainy or overly lumpy,
  • having tender well-formed potato salad or having it turn to a mushy mess.

If you have ever followed a recipe just to have the potatoes fail, perhaps it was because you used the wrong potatoes to begin with.

Starch Levels

The starch level of a potato really determines the best use for a potato. The Science of Good Food created this fantastic video to help demonstrate.

Another way to get a quick idea of the starch content of a potato: Cut the potato in half. If it sticks to the knife or leaves a creamy white residue on the blade, it’s a high-starch potato. If it doesn’t, it’s a low-starch potato.

Starch Content

High Starch

  • Russet or Idaho
  • Not recommended for dishes that need the potatoes to hold their shape

Medium Starch

  • Yellow, White, Yukon Gold (Can be Medium or Low Starch), Purple/Blue
  • Sometimes called “All-Purpose” potatoes

Low Starch

  • Red, Red Bliss (The larger they are the more starch they will have), Fingerlings
  • Sometimes called “Waxy” potatoes

Note: Potato “Au Gratin” is a popular recipe where thinly sliced potatoes are layered with cream and cheese. It is then baked in the oven until the potatoes are tender and cheese is melted.

Buying and Storage

When buying potatoes, pick firm ones that feel heavy for their size. Do not buy potatoes that are wrinkled, soft or damaged.

Do NOT buy potatoes with a green colour. The green is chlorophyll created by excess exposure to light and heat. With chlorophyll comes a toxin called solanine. Ingesting too much of this toxin can cause symptoms of food poisoning including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, confusion, shortness of breath, convulsions and even death.

There is much controversy regarding how much exposure is too much exposure. Our advice is to just avoid potatoes with this green colour. If you are eating cooked potatoes that taste bitter, they may have solanine and should be discarded.

Store potatoes in a cool (not cold), dry, dark place. If you store potatoes in the fridge, the starch will convert to sugar. If you have bought “New” potatoes (freshly harvested, young potatoes), they can be stored for a couple of days in the fridge before the starches begin to convert to sugar.

If you cringe at the idea of cooking with potatoes because of previous recipe fails, try again. Just use the best potato for the job.

Cooking the Potatoes

Now that you’ve bought some lovely potatoes, go ahead and find some tasty potato recipes.

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