Potatoes in the kitchen

In one big baked potato...

(including skin, 299 g/10.5 oz)
Nutrient% of DRV*
Vitamin C71.9%
* Dietary Reference Values (daily nutrient requirement) for male, aged 15-18 years, in the United Kingdom
Sources: U.S. National Nutrient Database; British Nutrition Foundation

We would not be celebrating the International Year of the Potato if potatoes weren't so good to eat! For what has made the "humble tuber" the world's No. 4 food crop is not only its nutritional value (see box at right), but its amazing versatility in the kitchen.

Potatoes are the world's most popular vegetable, and have been welcomed into the cuisines of countries around the globe. Potatoes are used in curries in India and in pasta in Italy, stewed with bananas in Costa Rica, baked with rice in Iran, stuffed with liver in Belarus, stir-fried with green beans in Ethiopia, and simmered with smoked haddock in winter soups in Finland.

The secret of the potato's success is its great diversity. In its birthplace, the Andes, the potato comes in thousands of "native" varieties, with distinctive colours, textures and tastes (in Peru, a potato salad may include three or four different types).

Baked, roasted, boiled... While the choice of tubers is more limited elsewhere, modern varieties of Solanum tuberosum offer a wide range of cooking characteristics suitable for hundreds of different dishes. Some give soups a creamy density, providing a delicate taste that highlights other ingredients. Other potatoes are great baked, served as a simple snack or with a filling as a complete meal. Roast potatoes - crisp and golden outside and fluffy inside - are the perfect accompaniment to roast meat. Smooth, creamy mash potato is said to be the "ultimate comfort food", while "new" potatoes, steamed or boiled, are considered a special delicacy.

Most potato recipes are easy to prepare. But choosing the right potato variety is essential for a successful potato dish - in the kitchen, potatoes are classified according to their starch content, which determines how they react to cooking. Basically, the more starch they contain, the more easily the tuber's starch cells burst when heated. Details below...


Choosing the "right potato"

High-starch potatoes, also called "floury" potatoes, generally have coarse, corky skin and a dry texture (due to lower levels of moisture). Boiled, they tend to fall apart. But they are unbeatable for baking, making french fries, and yielding light, fluffy mashed potato. Common high-starch varieties are Russets, Bintje, King Edward and Maris Piper.


Medium-starch (or "all purpose") potatoes include long white, round white and yellow potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, German Butterball and Nicola, as well as purple-fleshed tubers. They are moister than baking potatoes, but - some say - have a blander taste. Ideal for steaming, they go well in stews and baked, roasted, pan-fried and au gratin dishes.


Low-starch potatoes are called "waxy" for their glossy skins. These moist tubers keep their shape during cooking, making them the best choice for boiling, saut├ęs, stews and salads (in France, waxy varieties are preferred for making thick mashed potato). Use fingerling and round reds, or "new" (immature, of any variety) potatoes.