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A potato is a tuber. Originally from South America, the potato is now grown and used as a foodstuff in most parts of the world and is valued for its relative ease of growing and its high carbohydrate content. It is also extremely versatile in the kitchen and can be served boiled, roasted, baked, shallow-fried or deep-fried. There is a large number of varieties of potato, each of which has its own qualities and uses. Finally, some potatoes are harvested while still relatively immature ("new potatoes"), while others ("old potatoes") are left to grow to their maximum size. This also affects the texture and flavour.

Potatoes have a thin layer of high-grade protein just under the skin. The best ways to take advantage of it is to consume them whole, or boil them and very carefully remove their skins.


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Purple Peruvian potatoes

Potatoes can also be classified according to type. There are starchy, waxy and all-purpose types.


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The starchy potatoes are ideal for frying or baking. Under this type we have the Russet, Jewel yam, Japanese sweet and Hannah sweet potatoes.

The waxy types of potatoes are ideal for roasting and boiling. Under this type we have the Red bliss, French fingerling, Russian banana, Red thumb, La ratte and Austrian crescent potatoes.


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The all-purpose types of potatoes are ideal for pan-frying, roasting and stewing. Under this type we have the Yukon gold, Red gold, Red Norland, Purple majesty and All blue potatoes.

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Chart of varieties from the British Potato Council


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A small reddish potato, normally used as a new potato, served boiled.


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A small red-skinned maincrop potato, with a creamy texture, best used baked or roast.

King Edwards

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A large, all purpose potato. Normally used as an old potato, and traditionally served roast as part of a formal Sunday dinner (with roast beef).

Maris Piper

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A white potato, which can be harvested new or, more usually, as an old potato, when it is widely regarded as among the best potatoes for making into chips.


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A large to very large maincrop potato with a reddish skin and a smooth texture. Good roast.

Pink fir apple

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A long, thin potato with a knobbly, pinkish skin. Normally boiled in its skin and allowed to cool for use in a salad.

Shetland Black

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A variety first introduced in the 1920s. The skin is dark purple, rather than black, and the flesh is creamy with a nutty flavour. Best roast or baked, but can be boiled in its skin for an attractive visual appearance and contrast in texture.

Buying potatoes

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For practical purposes, potatoes can be put into three groups, although the distinctions between them are not clear-cut, and there is much overlapping. While the Russet Burbank baking potato is probably the most pleasing for general use, potatoes with oddly-coloured flesh often provide antioxidants like beta-carotene and lycopene. Odd colours may hide greening and rotten spots, though.

  • The term new potato is most frequently used to describe those potatoes freshly harvested and marketed during the late winter or early spring. The name is also widely used in later crop producing areas to designate freshly dug potatoes which are not fully matured. The best uses for new potatoes are boiling or mashing. They vary widely in size and shape, depending upon variety, but are likely to be affected by "skinning" or "feathering" of the outer layer of skin. Skinning usually affects only their appearance.
  • The term general purpose potato includes the great majority of supplies, both round and long types, offered for sale in markets. With the aid of air-cooled storage, general purpose potatoes are amply available throughout the year. As the term implies, they are used for boiling, frying, and baking, although many of the common varieties are not considered to be best for baking.
  • The term baking potato means a potato grown specifically for baking quality. Both variety and farm location are important factors affecting baking quality. A long variety with fine, scaly netting on the skin, such as the Russet Burbank from Idaho, is commonly used for baking.

With new potatoes, look for firm potatoes that are free from blemishes and sunburn (a green discolouration under the skin). Some amount of skinned surface is normal, but potatoes with large skinned and discoloured areas are undesirable. For general-purpose and baking potatoes, look for reasonably smooth, firm potatoes free from blemishes, sunburn, and decay. Avoid potatoes with large cuts, green spots, bruises, decay, sprouting, or shrivelling.


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Potato storage facilities need to be carefully considered to keep the potatoes alive and slow the natural process of decomposition, which involves the breakdown of starch. It is crucial that the storage area is dark, well ventilated and, for long-term storage, maintained at temperatures near 4 °C (39 °F). For short-term storage before cooking, temperatures of about 7 °C (45 °F) to 10 °C (50 °F) are preferred. Temperatures below 4 °C convert potatoes' starch into sugar, which alters their taste and cooking qualities and leads to higher acrylamide levels in the cooked product, especially in deep-fried dishes.

Under optimum conditions possible in commercial warehouses, potatoes can be stored for up to ten or twelve months. When stored at home, the shelf life is usually only several weeks.

If potatoes are exposed to light, they will develop green areas or start to sprout. Green parts can be very poisonous, as they indicate the presence of glycoalkaloids, ⍺-solanine and ⍺-chaconine. Although the green colour is caused by chlorophyll and is harmless, one should discard any such potatoes, as the toxins cannot be adequately removed by peeling or trimming techniques. These potatoes are no longer suitable as animal food.[1]

Cooking techniques

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Old potatoes normally need to be peeled before boiling. Many new potatoes are better when boiled in their skins, but one should wash them first. Small potatoes can be cooked whole. Larger potatoes will cook more evenly and quickly if they are first cut into roughly egg-sized pieces. Put the potatoes in a large enough pan and add enough water to cover them easily. Add a little salt, if desired. Bring to the boil. Potatoes will take around 20 minutes to cook through. To test whether they are done, press the tip of a cook's knife into one. It should be able to slip in and out easily. Serve with butter if you're not worried about your weight, with salt if you're not worried about your blood pressure, or with a sprinkling of chopped chives if you want them to look nice. Also boiled potatoes go well with mayonnaise.


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Skin potatoes and slice them as about finger thick (about 1 cm) slices. Put slices into pot and add some water (1/5 water of total level is enough, no need to cover them completely. Idea is to steam cook them and keeping the cooking water so nothing is wasted). Cook potatoes under a lid until they are ready, about 10 minutes. Attack the potatoes with a knife so that they are cut into smaller pieces. You then need to add some milk and butter (according to taste and waistline) and purée all ingredients. Use a potato-ricer for best results or a hand-held masher for possibly lumpy mash. Food processors can have a tendency to over process for mashed potatoes, instead producing more of a purée suitable for vichyssoise and other potato soups. You can add salt, pepper, muskat, or other herbs and spices as you wish. Roasted garlic is also a popular addition.


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Roast potatoes are a good and traditional accompaniment to roast meat. Prepare the potatoes as for boiling, and parboil them for just a few minutes. Then put in the roasting dish around the meat, and baste them with the juices as cooking goes on.


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On a cold day, few things are nicer than a baked potato. Use a large potato, with its skin on. It is important to stab the potatoes with a knife or fork in several places so they will not explode. Preheat the oven to moderately hot (gas mark 5, about 375 °F or 191 °C) and put in the potatoes for about an hour. Especially when using an electric oven, it is important to protect the potatoes from drying by covering them with foil or coating them in oil. A lid over the whole batch will do, saving on foil and oil. You may put a metal skewer through the potato to help distribute heat evenly. There are a variety of approaches to a baked potato and some cooks will prefer a low heat (c. 300 °F (149 °C)) for an hour, uncovered so that the steam can exit the potato. Make sure to cut it open as soon as it's out of the oven to let off steam and keep the skin from getting soggy and separated.

Serve the potato as hot as you can stand it. Fillings can include butter, grated cheese (something strong like cheddar or red Leicester), baked beans, pesto—you name it. Eat the skin—it really is good for you.


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Perforate the skin with a fork in many places to prevent the potato from exploding. It is important to protect the potatoes from drying by covering them with a damp paper towel or coating them in oil. A low power setting may be a good idea, but you wouldn't be using the microwave if you didn't want fast cooking!

Deep frying

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Described here is the basic method. Put the potatoes in whole. If you don't have any day-old bread to hand, drop one of your chips in; if the fat is hot enough it will start to cook. Add the chips, using a frying basket. The temperature of the fat will drop sharply, so keep the heat high under the pan. Cook until the chips are browned. Remove the frying basket, and allow the fat to get a little hotter. Then plunge the basket back in for a few minutes to complete the cooking. Keep a fire blanket or damp towel nearby at all times.

An alternative, and safer, method is to use a specialized deep fat fryer.

Shallow frying (sautéing)

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Potatoes can be shallow fried, as an easier and quicker alternative to deep-frying. Use a mealy potato (such as King Edward) and cut into cubes of about 1 cm or half an inch. Heat up a sauté pan then add vegetable oil and the potatoes. Cook at a high temperature for about five minutes, stirring often, until the cubes are browned all round. At the last moment you can add butter to glaze the potatoes and maybe some herbs or chopped shallots.

Another way of sautéing potatoes is to produce a Roesti (Rösti), a dish which originates in Switzerland. Instead of chopping the potatoes into cubes, grate the potato using the coarse setting on a three-sided grater.

Rinse the potatoes under cold running water to extract their starch. It is essential that you then squeeze the potato shards very dry. If you can, use a muslin cloth to squeeze out all the excess moisture.

Now, add the potato mixture to DRY (yes, really) frying pan and spread out evenly. Cook on a medium heat for about 5-7 minutes, resisting the temptation to turn or flip the potatoes. After this time, take a spatula and flip the entire potato pancake over. It should be a lovely golden colour and not burned. Fry the pancake for another 5 minutes on its other side, and then the Roesti is ready to eat. Simply slide it from the frying pan, onto a plate.

N.B.: Traditionally, Roesti either have butter or fat mixed into the grated potato before frying, or are fried in fat or oil.


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Stewing is a great way to take care of left over potatoes. Potato stew goes well with sausages, meatballs, or smoked, salted or gravad fish. To make stewed potatoes, peel and dice the cold, already boiled potatoes. Make the cubes about 1 centimeter (0.39 in) to 2 centimeters (0.79 in) across. Mix flour with milk and butter in a saucepan. Bring the sauce to a boil, add the potatoes, and boil gently for 5 min. Add salt, pepper and dill to taste.

Recipes using potatoes as a main ingredient

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  1. Carol Deppe (2010). The Resilient Gardener: Food Production and Self-Reliance in Uncertain Times. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing. p. 157. ISBN 1-60358-031-X. Retrieved September 17, 2011.