What’s in a Spud?

This article reveals the distinction between waxy and floury potatoes, best cooking methods and more.

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Potatoes – dirt cheap, versatile and filling. What’s not to love? There are literally hundreds of different varieties of potatoes and endless ways to prepare them, from baking to boiling. Let’s take a closer look at these tubers.

STAR OF THE SHOW

Potatoes are the star vegetable of many prized dishes around the world. One of the best things about potatoes is that they’re delicious on their own, with minimal spices, but they can also take on almost any flavor profile, making them a popular component of many global cuisines, from Aloo Gobi in India to Perogies in Poland. Gnocchi, a popular Italian dish, commonly gets lumped into the pasta category when, in fact, it is actually a dumpling made out of potatoes. You can serve gnocchi with many different kinds of sauces and toppings such as cheese, tomato sauce, or pesto, just like pasta. 

The skin of a potato, sometimes referred to as the jacket, is edible, so potatoes can be prepared with the skins on or off. Whether the skins are peeled off or not really just depends on one’s personal preference, as well as the type of dish they are being prepared for. Potatoes are low in calories and high in fiber and vitamin C. While they are considered by some to be unhealthy, this is only the case with certain preparations. Fried potato chips, or baked potatoes loaded with heaps of butter and sour cream tend to cancel out any health benefits! 

The skin of a potato, sometimes referred to as the jacket, is edible, so potatoes can be prepared with the skins on or off.

WAXY VS. FLOURY

Potatoes can generally be broken down into two categories: waxy and floury. Waxy potatoes have thin, smooth skin and creamy, shiny flesh. They tend to have a more pronounced potato flavor and are relatively low in starch but high in moisture. This means that they stay intact when they’re cooked. Flour varieties, like Idahos and russets, are higher in starch and lower in moisture than waxy potatoes. They will fall apart when boiled but, since starchiness often equates to crispiness, floury potatoes are best used for roasting and frying. Think French fries, latkes and hash browns. 

Red potatoes are a medium-sized waxy variety, with thin red skin and white flesh. They are great for boiling, steaming, and roasting. Since they keep their shape when cooked, they also make a good choice for dishes that have cooked potatoes in them, such as potato salad, soups and stews. 

Potatoes can generally be broken down into two categories: waxy and floury.

New potatoes refer to a variety that is harvested very early in its growth period, therefore they are quite small in size. Their waxy yellow or red skins contain a high level of moisture, while their sweet, tender flesh contain a lower level of starch, making them great for boiling. New potatoes can also be baked, fried, or roasted and served as side dishes or used in salads, soups and stews.

Russet potatoes are one of the most common varieties and fall into the ‘floury’ category. High in starch and low in moisture, they’re the perfect storage potato for those cold winter months. Firm, starchy potatoes such as russet are best for baking and making French fries. 

The Yukon Gold variety of potato is a cross between starchy and waxy. It truly is the best of both worlds. With light yellow skin and a rich buttery flavor, they’re incredibly versatile and, though they cost more than many other types of potatoes, the flavor makes up for it. 

SWEET POTATOES

Regular potatoes are tubers, while sweet potatoes are root vegetables, albeit with tuberous roots. Confused yet? Upon first glance. Sweet potatoes may seem much the same as a regular potato. In reality, their shape and flavor are very different and they come from different families. While potatoes taste earthy, sweet potatoes taste much sweeter, more like carrots. 

You may have heard sweet potatoes referred to as yams but, once again, this is incorrect. They come from different families and, compared to sweet potatoes, yams are starchier and drier. The confusion likely stems to the fact that in the United States, firm varieties of sweet potatoes came before soft varieties were produced, so when soft varieties were later grown at commercial scale, there was a need to differentiate them. Thus, ‘soft’ sweet potatoes were referred to as ‘yams’ to help tell them apart from the ‘firm’ varieties.