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.