Potatoes are among the most versatile vegetables and the world’s favorite tuber crop. Only rice, wheat, and corn are more abundantly grown. The potato plant matures giving white or purple flowers, and produces a fruit that yields potato seeds. Potatoes are also readily propagated from potato parts.

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The potato is also called the Irish Potato, though the tuber has even older Peruvian roots.
The potato is also called the Irish Potato, though the tuber has even older Peruvian roots.
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About Potatoes
Potatoes are weak-stemmed plants with hairy, dark green compound leaves that look a little like tomato leaves. The plants produce underground stem tubers when mature. It is a member of the tobacco family, related to the tomato, eggplant, and pepper.

Common Names: Potatoes, Irish Potatoes
Scientific Name:
Solanum tuberosum
Hardiness:
Hardy (may survive first frost)

In the next section, we'll show you how to grow potatoes.

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  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature potatoes.
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Growing Potatoes

Potatoes need a frost-free growing season of 90 to 120 days. They're a cool-weather crop, and they grow best in areas with cool summers. Hot weather cuts down on the production of tubers. Grow potatoes in summer in the North, and in fall, winter, and spring in the South. Plant early varieties just before the average date of last frost.

Potato plants are recognized by their star-shaped white or purple flowers.
Potato plants are recognized by their
star-shaped white or purple flowers.

Potatoes are grown from whole potatoes or pieces of potatoes, which are called seed pieces. Each piece must have at least one eye. Always plant certified disease-free seed pieces. Don't use supermarket potatoes, which have been chemically treated to prevent sprouting.

Potatoes need well-drained, fertile soil that is high in organic matter. The pH level should be between 5.0 and 5.5. Plant potato pieces in full sun, 4 inches deep, and 12 to 18 inches apart. Keep the soil evenly moist and free of weeds.

Harvesting Potatoes Dig up new potatoes after the plant blooms or when the leaves begin to turn yellow. For mature tubers, use a spading fork to dig up the potatoes two weeks after the vine dies.

Types of Potatoes

  • Red Pontiac, 100 days, are red with thin skin and white flesh.
  • Explorer, 100 days, produces small, white flesh and can be grown from seed.
  • White Cobbler, 90 days, is a baking variety with a short growing season.
  • Kennebec, 105 days, is large and white; it stores well.
  • Yukon Gold, 70-90 days, has creamy, pale yellow flesh.
  • All Blue or Russian Blue, 90-110 days, has purple skin and purple mottled flesh.
  • Caribe, 70-90 days, has purple skin and white flesh.

In the next section, we'll show you how to select potatoes.

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Selecting Potatoes

Boiling potatoes are red or white. They're small and round with thin skins that look waxy, signaling more moisture and less starch. Baking potatoes, also known as russets or Idahos, are large and long with brown, dry skin. Their lack of moisture makes them bake up fluffy. Long, white all-purpose potatoes are also known as Maine, Eastern, or California potatoes.

Good baking potatoes are large and brown with dry skin.
Good baking potatoes are large and brown with dry skin.

New potatoes are not a variety of potato; they are simply small potatoes of any variety that have yet to mature. They look waxy with thin, undeveloped skins that are often partially rubbed away.

For all potatoes, choose those that are firm with no soft or dark spots. Pass over green-tinged potatoes; they contain toxic alkaloids, such as solanine, that the potato develops when exposed to light. Also avoid potatoes that have started to sprout; they're old. If you buy potatoes in bags, open the bags right away and discard any that are rotting, because one bad potato can spoil a bagful.

Store potatoes in a location that is dry, cool, dark, and ventilated. Light triggers the production of toxic solanine. Too much moisture causes rotting. Don't refrigerate them, or the starch will convert to sugar. Don't store them with onions; both will go bad faster because of a gas the potatoes give off. Mature potatoes keep for weeks; new potatoes only a week.

Tips for Preparing and Serving Potatoes

Don't wash potatoes until you're ready to cook them. Scrub well with a vegetable brush under running water. Cut out sprout buds and bad spots. If the potato is green or too soft, throw it out.

Baking a potato takes an hour in a conventional oven, but only five minutes in a microwave (12 minutes for four potatoes). Prick the skin for a fluffier potato. If you are baking them in a conventional oven, it's inadvisable to wrap them in foil unless you like steamed potatoes. When boiling potatoes, keep them whole to reduce nutrient loss.

New potatoes are delicious boiled and drizzled lightly with olive oil, then dusted liberally with dill weed.

In the next section, we'll explain the many health benefits of potatoes.

Want more information about potatoes? Try:

  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature potatoes.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.

Health Benefits of Potatoes

Potatoes have been getting a bad rap in the food world. But the pride of Idaho actually has much to boast about. Potatoes are filling, moderate in calories, and non-fattening, and are an excellent way to ensure your continued success in eating healthy.

Potatoes are an excellent source of almost every essential vitamin and mineral.
Potatoes are an excellent source of almost every essential vitamin and mineral.

Whoever coined the phrase "the lowly potato" certainly wasn't aware of its nutrient values. And anyone who still shuns the potato thinking it is fattening is missing out on a food tailor-made for the calorie-conscious person.

Potatoes are nutrient-dense, meaning you receive many nutrients for the amount of calories they have. The fiber is half soluble, half insoluble, so it helps to keep you regular and helps to lower cholesterol. And slowing down digestion helps to keep you full longer. Phytochemicals in potatoes include flavanoids and a recently identified compound called kukoamine that appears to help lower blood pressure.

With the exception of vitamin A, white potatoes have just about every nutrient. Did you know potatoes are full of vitamin C? However, since we do not eat potatoes raw, most of the vitamin C is lost due to the heat of cooking. In addition, one baked potato offers about 20 percent of the daily recommended amount of vitamin B6, which is good news for your heart. They are also very high in potassium, beating other potassium-rich foods. They are a good source of iron and copper, too. In fact, a potato a day is good for your heart, promoting normal blood-pressure levels.

As it turns out, the bad rap belongs to the toppings and preparation methods we often use to turn potatoes from a healthful food to a fatty, salty snack. The health-conscious will want to bake, not fry, and be conscious of the nutritional value of the oils, toppings, and condiments that touch our spuds.

Nutritional Values for White Potato, Fresh, Baked (with Skin)
Serving Size: 1 large baking potato (3-4")

Calories 278
Fat <1 g
Saturated Fat <1 g
Cholesterol 0 mg
Carbohydrate 63 g
Protein 6 g
Dietary Fiber 6 g
Sodium 21 mg
Vitamin C 37 mg
Thiamin <1 mg
Niacin 5 mg
Vitamin B6 1 mg
Copper <1 mg
Iron 2 mg
Magnesium 81 mg
Manganese <1 mg
Phosphorus 224 mg
Potassium 1,627 mg

Want more information about potatoes? Try:
  • Vegetable Recipes: Find delicious recipes that feature potatoes.
  • Vegetable Gardens: Grow a full harvest of great vegetables this year.
  • Nutrition: Find out if potatoes fit into your nutritional plan.
  • Gardening: We answer your questions about all things that come from the garden.
This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.