Plant the Right Potato for the Way You Cook

Potatoes purple1

When it comes to growing potatoes, choose the potato you grow to match the way you want to cook potatoes. Use low-starch potatoes for boiling, roasting, grilling, sautés, stews, salads, and au gratin dishes. Use medium starch potatoes for steaming, baking, roasting, grilling, and au gratin dishes. Use high-starch potatoes for baking, frying, and mashing.

Low- and medium-starch potatoes keep their shape and remain creamy and toothy when boiled. High-starch potatoes will swell and puff up when baked; they will be light, dry, and delicate. (A high-starch potato submitted to the rigors of boiling will explode and turn inside out in boiling water.)

Fingerling potatoes in the kitchen
Fingerling potatoes in the kitchen

Here’s what you need to know about low, medium, and high-starch potatoes:

Low- and medium-starch potatoes for boiling

Low- and medium-starch potatoes are sometimes called salad or boiling potatoes. They have high moisture content so they don’t absorb as much water when submerged and boiled. The most common low-starch potatoes are red-skinned varieties often called round-reds; look for the variety Red Bliss. Other boiling potatoes are California long whites, Maine, and Kennebec potatoes. Medium-starch potato varieties include Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, and German Butterball.

Other low- and medium-starch potatoes include many dubbed fingerlings (named for their shape and size) and heirlooms (look for rose, pink, gold, and purple potatoes).

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High-starch potatoes for baking

High-starch potatoes, best for baking, are russet, russet Burbank, and russet Idaho. They have low moisture content and are sometimes called “mealy” potatoes. If you can’t get a russet, Burbank, or Idaho potato for baking, use a medium-starch potato, again Yukon Gold and Yellow Finn are the best known. Medium-starch potatoes will not produce a baked potato as light and puffy as a russet or Idaho potato.

Mashing potatoes

If you plan to mash the potatoes you grow, you can choose either low-, medium, or high-starch potatoes, but preparation differs when making mashed potatoes. Low- and medium-starch potatoes will be more flavorful as mashed potatoes than high-starch potatoes, but you will find they are stickier, almost glue-like, in preparation so you may find it difficult to achieve a smooth-texture mashed potato serving. Use high-starch potatoes for a smooth, fluffy mashed potato, but rather than boil the potatoes steam them.

Guide to potato types and varieties

Here are nine different types of potatoes with variety names. Look for the amount of starch–low, medium, or high–for each type. Match the type you grow to how you plan to cook the potatoes.

 Russet Potatoes
Russet Potatoes

Russet potatoes

• Russet potatoes—also called old potatoes, baking potatoes, or Idaho potatoes (if they were grown in Idaho)—have an oblong, elliptical shape, and rough, netted, brown skin with numerous eyes and white flesh. Russets grow from 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long and about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.

Russets are low in moisture and high in starch so they cook up dry and fluffy. Russets are suited for baking, mashing, and deep frying (French fries). The top varieties are russet Burbank, russet Norkotahs, russet Arcadia, and russet Butte.

Long white potatoes
Long white potatoes

Long white potatoes

• Long white potatoes–also called white rose or California long whites (because they were developed in California)—have an elliptical shape and thin ivory white to pale gray-brown skin with imperceptible eyes. Long whites grow from 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) long and about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter.

Long whites have a medium to low starch content and are moister than russets. You can use long whites for boiling, baking, or deep frying. Long whites keep their shape when cooked.

Fingerling potatoes

• Fingerlings—are thumb-sized potatoes that grow to about 3 inches (7.5 cm) long and 1 inch (2.5 cm) wide. Fingerlings are thin-skinned and can be cooked unpeeled—baked, boiled, steamed, fried, and roasted. They are low in starch with a waxy texture and hold together well after cooking. They are yellow-fleshed with a rich, buttery texture.

Many fingerlings—small finger sized-potatoes—are also low-starch potatoes. Fingerling varieties include long white fingerling, purple Peruvian fingerlings, French fingerling, German fingerling, Russian banana fingerling, Ozette, and Ruby Crescent fingerlings.

Yellow potatoes

• Yellow potatoes—are usually round to slightly oblong-shaped potatoes with thin, yellowish light brown skins, and buttery yellow to golden waxy flesh. Yellow potatoes are low to medium in starch and have a moist, creamy, succulent texture with a buttery flavor. They are well suited for boiling, steaming, mashing, roasting, grilling, and au gratin dishes.

Yukon Gold potatoes
Yukon Gold potatoes

Yellow flesh potato varieties include Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, German Butterball, Carola, Nicola, and Alby’s Gold.

Round white potatoes

• Round white potatoes—are medium-sized, round with a light tan to freckled brown skin and waxy to creamy textured flesh. Round whites are moist with low to medium starch. They are well suited for boiling, roasting, frying, and mashing. Round whites hold their shape after cooking.

Round whites are grown mostly in the Northeastern United States. Round white varieties include Kennebec, Superior, and Atlantic.

Round red potatoes

• Round red potatoes— also called new potatoes (because they are small), red bliss potatoes, and boiling potatoes–are medium-sized, round, rose to reddish-brown skinned potatoes with dense, crisp white flesh. Round reds are low in starch and are sweeter tasting than round whites. Choose round reds for boiling, roasting, grilling, sautés, stews, salads, and au gratin dishes. You can serve round reds cooked whole.

Round reds are mostly grown in the Northwestern United States. Round red varieties include Red Norland and Red Pontiac.

Purple potatoes
Peruvian Purple potatoes

Purple and blue potatoes

• Purple potatoes or blue potatoes—are heirloom potatoes with grayish-blue to purple skins and usually inky blue flesh. They are delicately flavored. Purple and blue-skinned potatoes are low in starch and can be boiled, steamed, roasted, fried, mashed, or served in stews, salads, and au gratin dishes.

Blue and purple potatoes are probably descended from the original potatoes from Peru which were the same color. Purple flesh potato varieties include All Blue, which is dry and good for roasting; Purple Peruvian which is well fried; and Purple Viking which has good flavor and is good mashed.

• Other heirloom potatoes–include two red-skinned and red-fleshed potatoes: Huckleberry and Blossom. Both of these potatoes are low in starch and can be boiled, steamed, roasted, fried, mashed, or served in stews, salads, and au gratin dishes.

Maris Piper new potatoes
‘Maris Piper’ new potatoes

New potatoes

• New potatoes–is a term for any variety of potato that has been harvested before it has reached maturity. (However, mature round red potatoes are also called new potatoes simply because they are small.) New potatoes are also called baby potatoes and sometimes creamers. They can be as small as marble-sized.

New potatoes are harvested when their leaves are still green—most potatoes are harvested after their leaves have turned yellow or brown—and before their sugar has begun to convert to starch. New potatoes are thin-skinned and very moist with a crisp, waxy textured flesh.

New potatoes often come to market in the spring and early summer. They are never kept in storage because of their high sugar content. New potatoes are great for cooking whole, boiling, or pan-roasting. They keep their shape after cooking and are well-used in potato salads.

Red Norland Potatoes
Red Norland Potatoes are red potatoes for storing

Storage potatoes

Storing potatoes or storage potatoes–come from mature plants whose leafy tops have yellowed and died back. Storing potatoes should be dried or cured before they are stored. Potatoes are usually cured for a period of 4 to 5 days at about 60-70ºF (16-21°C). Curing allows cuts and surface injuries of the tuber to “heal.” Potatoes low in starch will store well.

Well-matured potatoes without defects are the best keepers. Potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated area. Potatoes can be stored for up to 6 months.

Good storing potatoes include Norkotah, Goldrush, Butte, Katahdin, Caribe, and Red Norland.

How to test an unknown potato variety for starch

If you don’t know the variety of the potato you have in hand, you can determine how starchy it is by cutting it with a knife. If the potato clings to the knife or if the knife is coated with a creamy white substance, the potato is starchy.

Related Articles:

How to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Potatoes.

Seven Ways to Cook Potatoes

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Written by Stephen Albert

Stephen Albert is a horticulturist, master gardener, and certified nurseryman who has taught at the University of California for more than 25 years. He holds graduate degrees from the University of California and the University of Iowa. His books include Vegetable Garden Grower’s Guide, Vegetable Garden Almanac & Planner, Tomato Grower’s Answer Book, and Kitchen Garden Grower’s Guide. His Vegetable Garden Grower’s Masterclass is available online. has more than 10 million visitors each year.

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