Potatoes are full of important nutrients - and the price is right for the nutrition you need. Potatoes are delicious and extremely versatile in the kitchen. They can be served at any meal, prepared in a variety of ways, and they pair perfectly with other food groups from MyPlate, including other vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and lower fat dairy products.
Delicious ways to get the most from your potato purchases:
Just like some apples are best for sauce and others are great for eating raw, different potatoes work better for different purposes. More than a hundred varieties of potatoes are sold in the US, but they fall into seven major categories for cooking. Here are the categories and their best uses in the kitchen:
Russet Potatoes have an earthy flavor and are the perfect choice for baking and making light, fluffy mashed potatoes. They can be cut into wedges or planks for oven 'fries' and dipped into everything from light sour cream to spicy salsa.
Best for: Baking, Mashing, Roasting
Red Potatoes have a thinner skin and a subtle, sweet flavor. Their waxy texture helps them stay firm throughout cooking, making them ideal for stews, soups and salads. They roast beautifully and are a colorful addition as a side dish.
Best for: Boiling, Steaming, Sauté, Scallop, Soups, Salads
White Potatoes also have a thin skin, so they can be easily mashed without peeling. They hold their shape well after cooking; their creamy texture and mild flavor make them perfect for grilling, steaming and boiling.
Best for: Boiling, Steaming, Mashing, Roasting, Scallop, Soups, Salads
Yellow Potatoes are great for lighter dishes, since their golden color means that less oil or butter needs to be added. Their naturally smooth and buttery texture lends itself to baking, roasting and mashing, as well as pan 'frying.'
Best for: Mashing, Steaming, Baking, Boiling, Roasting
Purple/Blue Potatoes have a moist, firm flesh and nutty, earthy flavor. Their rich, vibrant color makes them a lovely addition to any salad. The best way to preserve the color is microwaving, but steaming and baking are also delicious.
Best for: Boiling, Steaming, Baking
Fingerling Potatoes come in multiple colors. Their size and shape make them a visually interesting addition to almost any dish. Split fingerlings roast quickly in the oven, serve with ketchup or more exotic sauces like spicy srisachi.
Best for: Boiling, Steaming, Baking
Petite Potatoes are bite-sized versions of larger potato varieties. While the skin, color and flesh can come in any of the types above, their flavor is more concentrated. Cooked and served whole, they reduce prep time, especially when roasted.
As with any other produce item, picking the right potato will help you get your money's worth - and help ensure great cooking results every time.
- When shopping, select firm, smooth potatoes. Avoid those with wrinkled or wilted skins, soft dark areas, cut surfaces or any discoloration.
- If you need several potatoes for a recipe, choose those of similar sizes to ensure that they cook evenly.
An advantage of potatoes is that - if stored properly - they have a longer shelf life than many other vegetables.
- Potatoes should be kept in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. The ideal storage temperature is 45-50°F, which will help potatoes keep for several weeks.
- Avoid storage areas that reach high temperatures (beneath the sink or beside large appliances) or receive too much sunlight (on countertops).
- Avoid storing potatoes in the refrigerator. When kept below 40°F, potato starch converts to sugar, resulting in a sweet taste and discoloration when cooked.
- Store potatoes in perforated plastic bags or paper bags to provide the best enviroment and extend shelf-life as long as possible.
- Handle green or sprouting potatoes properly.
- Green on the skin of a potato indicates a build-up of a chemical called Solanine. It is a natural reaction to the potato being exposed to too much light. Solanine produces a bitter taste and if eaten in very large quantites (several pounds a day) can cause illness.
- If there is a slight greening, cut away the green portions of the potato skin before cooking and eating. If there is extensive greening, throw the potato away.
- Sprouts are signs that a potato is trying to grow into a new potato plant. Storing potatoes in a cool, dry, dark location that is well ventilated will reduce sprouting.
- There is nothing wrong with eating a sprouted potato, although it will probably not be at peak flavor. Cut away the sprouts and any soft sections before cooking or eating the potato.
Proper preparation will ensure that everyone enjoys delicious potatoes every time thay are served. Here are some easy tips for tasty spud dishes:
- Even though potatoes are washed before you buy them, it's a good idea to gently scrub them with a vegetable brush and rinse thoroughly before cooking.
- Nutrients are best preserved when potatoes are cooked and eaten with the skin on. Leaving the skin while cooking helps retain water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and makes them easier to prepare.
- Gently scrub potatoes with a vegetable brush under cool running water. If you are peeling potatoes, use a sharp vegetable peeler and keep the peeling as thin as possible.
- Sometimes uncooked, cut potatoes take on a pinkish or brownish color. This discoloration is similar to that of cut apples when exposed to air. It's due to the carbohydrate in the food reacting with oxygen in the air. Potatoes that become discolored in this way are safe to eat and do not need to be thrown out.
- While discoloration usually fades with cooking, you can preserve the natural color by keeping cut potatoes in ice water with a little lemon juice or vinegar. Limit soaking to 2 hours to retain water-soluble vitamins, like vitamin C.
- Refrigerate leftovers within 2 hours of serving to prevent food-borne illness. Freezing cooked potatoes at home is not recommended, since they become watery and unappealing upon reheating.
Potatoes are one of the most versatile foods available and can be prepared using literally dozens of different cooking methods and can be enjoyed in hundreds of dishes. On their own potatoes provide one of the most nutrient dense whole foods. However, potatoes are also a wonderful compliment to many other nutritious and delicious choices. Here are just a few recommendations of what you can use to top your potato and boost nutrient content:
- Broccoli and/or cauliflower with melted fat-free or low-fat cheese
- Salsa and Monterrey jack cheese
- Rotisserie chicken and BBQ sauce
- Cottage cheese and chives
- Fat-free or low-fat sour cream
- Black beans and onions
"Moderation. Small helpings. Sample a little bit of everything.
These are the secrets of happiness and good health."