While you might think potatoes are an old-world crop, associating it with events like the Irish Potato Famine, they originated in the New World. You can generally tell where a crop originated based on the diversity of its varieties, with the more types of a crop correlating to an older age.
Potatoes originated in Peru. If you’ve ever seen a Peruvian vegetable market, you’ll see dozens of potato varieties of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Potatoes were domesticated long before the colonization of the Americas.
That said, European and North American farmers and cooks have cultivated new varieties and perfected the art of cooking this beloved nightshade. Culinary traditions on nearly every continent include potatoes, but there are a few different types to know.
Types of Potatoes
The following list covers the characteristics and culinary traditions associated with the most common types of potatoes you’re likely to find at your local supermarket or farmers’ market.
Perhaps the most popular potato in North America and Western Europe, Russets are a North American variety cultivated by Luther Burbank at the turn of the 20th century.
They were originally called Burbank Russets.
If you’re from the States, you might be more familiar with the term Idaho potatoes. Russets are large, round potatoes with:
- White flesh
- A higher water content
- A thick brown skin
Russets are incredibly versatile, lending well to baking, boiling, and frying.
My favorite way to eat a Russet is as a twice-baked potato, combining the two cooking techniques of mashing and baking.
A relatively new cultivar, Yukon Gold potatoes originated in the 1960s in Ontario but didn’t achieve commercial production until the 1980s.
Named for the Yukon River and the rich golden yellow coloring of its flesh, the Yukon Gold potato is a hybrid of the Peruvian yellow potato.
Yukon Golds are oval or round, medium-sized potatoes with a thin brown skin that doesn’t grow eyes.
They have a waxy, starchy yellow flesh with an almost buttery flavor. They’re an all-purpose ingredient that lends well to any cooking method.
In my opinion, Yukon Gold potatoes are the best type of potatoes for mashed potatoes. Their rich flavor blends perfectly with butter and milk.
As the name suggests, Fingerling potatoes are stubby, thin potatoes that look like gnarled fingers.
There are multiple varieties of fingerlings; spanning the color spectrum.
The most popular variety in the U.S is the yellow-skinned and white-fleshed Russian Banana fingerling.
The most popular fingerling variety in Peru is the Purple Peruvian, with dark purple skin and flesh.
The cooking methods that best showcase their flavor and texture are oven or pan-roasting. I love the hard crispy outer layer of pan-fried fingerlings with firmer and flavorful flesh.
I find the purple fingerlings to be especially beautiful and worth the expense to wow dinner party guests.
Also known as New Potatoes, Red Potatoes are a popular North American and European variety named for the bright red color of their thin skin.
Red Potatoes are small, round potatoes with white flesh that’s less starchy than the Russet.
While many potato varieties require you to get rid of the skin, Red Potatoes are prized for their skin.
The most popular ways to prepare Red Potatoes are steaming them or oven-roasting them.
They’re one of my favorite varieties for steaming. I use steamed red potatoes in potato salads and Tuna Niçoise salads. The thin red skin pops open as they steam, creating a delightful texture.
Purple potatoes have become the latest trend in culinary artistry.
They encompass a variety of species that range in size and shape, from oval to round and small to medium. Purple potatoes have purple skin and deep purple flesh.
Certain varieties have white striations. The flesh is starchy and dense, like Russets but with an earthier, nuttier flavor. They work well with most cooking methods, from boiling to frying.
They’re less common and, thus, more expensive. Restaurants have popularized them for their beautiful coloring that makes for stunning plating.
I love to roast them and smash them. I then drizzle them with a vinaigrette and garnish the dish with scallions for some color.
True to their name, Petite Potatoes are the smallest types of potatoes, ranging in size from a marble to a golf ball. They come in oblong shapes and many colors, including:
- Tan with less starchy flesh
They’re more of a family than a specific type of potato. Where larger potatoes take much longer to cook, petite potatoes cook in a few minutes.
Like Red Potatoes, Petite Potatoes taste best using boiling or roasting methods.
They’re often sold as a hodgepodge of colors and sizes and are as delicious as they are visually pleasing.
I love pan roasting them whole with butter and salt to maintain their colorful marble-like appearance.
Also known as Irish White, White Potatoes were the famed Irish-cultivated variety that developed a plague, leading to the Great Irish Famine.
White Potatoes have many varieties other than the Irish white.
But they all have white flesh and thin, pale beige skin. They’re toted for their long shelf life and high crop yield. Most potato chips are made from white potatoes.
White potatoes have a creamy and dense texture with a mildly sweet flavor.
I like using them for scalloped potatoes, slicing them into thin coins, stacking them horizontally in a casserole pan, and covering them in cream and cheese before baking them to perfection.
This information might come as a surprise, but sweet potatoes aren’t potatoes at all.
They’re distant relatives to potatoes and, like potatoes, they’re tuberous root vegetables.
Unlike most potatoes that are cold weather, high-altitude crops, sweet potatoes originated in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
Sweet potatoes come in various colors and sizes. The most common form of sweet potato in America is large and oval, with light brown skin and deep orange flesh.
In Mexico and the Caribbean, sweet potatoes are even larger, with purple skin and pale yellow, super-starchy flesh.
Sweet potatoes have more fiber and nutrients than potatoes, and their characteristically sweet flavor lends well to savory side dishes and desserts. I’m from the south and take pride in the Southern sweet potato pie.
Types of Potatoes
- Yukon gold
- Red Potatoes
- Purple Potatoes
- Petite Potatoes
- White Potatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
Potatoes are one of the most prolific staple crops in the world. Their long shelf life and versatility won the hearts and stomachs of the pioneering American cultures that cultivated them.
They were also adored by Old World cultures that created varieties and national potato dishes of their own.
There are countless ways to enjoy these starchy and delicious tubers, from creamy mashed potatoes to crunchy potato chips.
My list of the most common types of potatoes encompasses a wide range of textures, flavors, origins, and cooking methods.
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