How to Choose Potatoes

Three Methods:Choosing a varietyKnowing what to look forDetermining serving size

Originally from South America, there are hundreds of varieties of potatoes grown in the world. However, apart from specialist growers, there are only a few main varieties of potatoes that make it to the regular supermarket or market shelves and many are dependent on the local soil and conditions relevant to your area. When choosing potatoes, the main things to think about are your end use for the potatoes and your preferred texture.

Method 1
Choosing a variety

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    Select a potato type according to the culinary purpose. While there are hundreds of varieties of potatoes, it is possible to categorize all of these varieties into four main culinary categories or types:
    • Waxy potatoes - this type of potato stays firm when cooked
    • Floury potatoes - this type of potato mashes well
    • New potatoes
    • Specialty salad potatoes.
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    Use waxy potatoes for boiling, steaming and serving whole in potato salads. Some waxy varieties are also suitable for baking and light frying/sautéeing, depending on which potatoes you're using. Varieties (locality dependent) include Desirée, Maincrop, Nadine, Marfona, etc.
    • Waxy potatoes are best for use in straw mat potato pancakes and for potato gratins.
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    Use floury potatoes for mashing, baking, roasting and deep-frying. Varieties include Kennebec, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, King Edward, Golden Wonder, Cara, etc.
    • High starch, mature potatoes (for example, russets/Idahoes) are best used for baking, frying or mashing (and some casseroles). Medium starch potatoes are best for mashing.
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    Use new potatoes (chats) for fresh, light dishes and for salads. New potatoes should be consumed within days of purchase or digging out of the garden bed. Varieties include Jersey Royals, Colmo, Duke of York, Pink Eye, etc. However, don't be too insistent on a variety, as new potatoes can be almost any variety of around 12 weeks of age, about the size of a hen's egg.
    • New and old refers to the age of potatoes. New potatoes are from the current season's harvest and can be divided into baby potatoes and early season potatoes. Old potatoes are from last year's crop.
    • Potatoes that are freshly dug tend to be sweeter than older potatoes because the sugar has yet to turn into starch; however, note that baby potatoes have yet to develop a full flavor. Newer potatoes tend to have flaky skin that can be rubbed off by hand. The waxy or floury type is not relevant for new potatoes.
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    Use specialty salad potatoes for salads. Varieties include Pink Fir Apple, Charlotte, La Ratte, Anya, blue, black and purple varieties, etc.
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    Note that a full list of potato varieties can be found at It is based on United States varieties but is fairly comprehensive and may be relevant in other countries too.

Method 2
Knowing what to look for

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    Choose potatoes which feel firm to the touch. Avoid those that seem soft or spongy. But be gentle when pressing a potato, as potatoes bruise easily; handle with care. The skin should appear smooth, wrinkle-free and taut.
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    Choose potatoes which are free from blemishes or discoloration. The potatoes should be dry and free of sprouts or green spots. Sprouts mean that the potatoes have been in storage too long and/or have been exposed to too warm a storage environment.
    • Uneven surfaces and eyes (naturally grown indentation from which the sprouts shoot) are not harmful. They simply slow down the preparation time. Remove the eye with the curved end of a potato peeler.
    • Discard wrinkled, sprouted potatoes.

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    Purchase only as much as you know you can use before the potatoes will spoil. New potatoes should be eaten with 3-4 days of purchasing or digging up, while other potatoes will last longer, depending on the warmth and light levels of the storage environment.
    • Only buy small quantities of new potatoes, enough for a single meal.

Method 3
Determining serving size

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    Use the following guide for regular single serving sizes:

    • Four small new potatoes per person
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    • One medium sized large/old potato per person.
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  • Not everything is set in stone. Experiment with the potatoes to find what works best for your cooking needs. Provided you like the outcome, there's no need to stick any hard and fast rules about which potato to use!
  • Did you know? Potatoes are always best mashed by hand. Introducing machine mashing can turn potatoes into glue!
  • Store potatoes in a dry, cool and dark place. Potatoes exposed to light will turn green, damp potatoes tend to go moldy and warm potatoes sprout. If your potatoes sprout, try planting them in the garden for a new crop!
  • Potatoes come in white, yellow, purple, red and lilac colors. Flesh colors include white, yellow/golden and purple.


  • Only the tuber of the potato plant is edible. The leaves and flowers are poisonous.
  • Peeled potatoes darken quickly and should be placed into water or cooked as soon as they have been peeled, to prevent further discoloration.
  • Some people suggest never eating a potato that has small green spots, while others suggest the remaining potato is fine once the green part has been removed. Make up your own mind but be sure to cut out all green parts if you do use a potato that has had green patches in it. Be aware that green patches tend to give the potato a bitter taste and in quantity, it's toxic.

Sources and Citations

  • Annie Nicols, Potatoes: From Gnocchi to Mash, (1998), ISBN 1-900518-93-7 – research source
  • James Peterson, Vegetables, p. 80, (1998), ISBN 0-688-14658-9 – research source

Article Info

Categories: Potato Dishes | Food Selection and Storage