If you’ve ever found yourself staring down dozens of potatoes, wondering which kind is best for a brunch frittata, potluck mash, or picnic potato salad, don’t worry—we’re here to help boost your potato expertise.
Potatoes are the versatile backbone of many meals, but not all are created equal. When cooking with potatoes, choosing the wrong kind can mean the difference between a creamy, fluffy mash and a sticky, gluey mess.
To start: there are three main varieties of potatoes—waxy, starchy, and all-purpose.
Starchy potatoes are high in starch (hence the name) and lower in moisture, so they lose their structure and become fluffy when cooked. You don’t want to use a starchy potato for a dish that has potatoes at its aesthetic centerpiece—like a gratin, potato salad, or scalloped dish. Instead, save these for baking or mashing.
Waxy potatoes hold their shape better when cooked and are therefore better for roasting and boiling. They also work great in soups, frittatas, and potato salads. When roasted, waxy potatoes develop a crispy exterior while staying creamy and moist on the inside. Talk about the perfect bite!
All-purpose potatoes contain both waxy and starchy elements, so they’re the most versatile and can be used for pretty much any potato dish.
Our deep dive into types of potatoes will help you better navigate the grocery store and make the proper potato purchase.
Idaho or Russet
Though Idaho and Russet potatoes are technically different varieties, the names are often used interchangeably. They refer to potatoes with a wide, oblong shape; rough, brown skin; and an off-white, starchy interior. Russets’ long oval shape and high starch content make them the perfect french fry potato—the inside of the potato becomes sweet and fluffy when fried.
Russets and Idahos are also both great for baked potatoes, whether prepared simply or twice-baked and stuffed with gourmet toppings.
Sweet potatoes (also known as yams) are the dessert of the potato world. Like Russets, sweet potatoes are oblong in shape, but with a reddish-purple exterior and bright orange flesh.
We love sweet potatoes for their versatility—they mash well for a sweet alternative to mashed potatoes, can be baked into crispy fries, and lend sweetness to a vegetable hash. Sweet potatoes’ mild sweetness and starchy texture also make them a good base for a homemade veggie burger. There’s little that this delicious potato can’t do!
One note: because they’re in the starchy family of potatoes, avoid using sweet potatoes for dishes where you need the potato to maintain its visual structure—like potato salad.
Red Bliss Potato
Red bliss (also called red-skinned) potatoes get their name from their smooth, brick-red skin, which gives way to a bright white, creamy flesh inside. They are often small and round, setting them apart from Russet and sweet potatoes in the produce aisle.
Red bliss are ideal for roasting—they transform into a delicious crispy, creamy bite that pairs perfectly with steak. They also hold their shape well in a breakfast frittata where you’ll want crispy bites of potato to break up the creaminess of the eggs.
Skip the red bliss when it comes to a mash and opt for a starchy variety that breaks down easily and requires less mashing to become creamy.
New potatoes are harvested when they’re “young,” so their sugars haven’t yet fully converted into starch. This lends a sweetness that mature, starchier potatoes lack, and their flesh has a firm creaminess that holds up well to boiling and steaming. Like Red Bliss potatoes, they’re small and round with smooth skin though often gold or yellow in color.
New potatoes are our go-to variety for potato salads—especially when we’re going for a German-style (which uses mustard and vinegar in place of mayo). They’re also delicious when roasted, thanks to their thin skin which crisps up quickly for a satisfying, crunchy bite.
Fingerling potatoes are small and oblong with a smooth, knobby exterior that makes them look like…well, fingers! Like other waxy potatoes, fingerlings remain firm when roasted, baked, and boiled.
We love that fingerlings’ small size means you can roast them whole, no chopping or slicing needed (less prep work is always a win in our book). Though we have to admit, slicing them in half lengthwise does allow for the flat potato surface to crisp in the oven like in this Plated favorite, Chicken Marsala. It’s worth the extra step!
You can recognize a Yukon Gold potato by its smooth, golden exterior and yellow flesh. Think of this spud like a new potato, but larger and with a thicker skin.
Yukon Golds are perfect for mashing—their low moisture content keeps them from becoming gluey, leaving you with the perfect, fluffy side. We also love using them for crispy smashed potatoes, which can be served alongside a meal or on their own as a flavorful, bite-sized appetizer.
And let’s not forget about everyone’s favorite form of potato—the tater tot. Making our homemade Yukon Gold tater tots will reignite your inner child—or make an actual child in your life very happy.
You’ll have no trouble picking purple potatoes out of the lineup at the store! These versatile potatoes are true to their name, with a deep purple skin and bright purple flesh. Their firm, starchy flesh makes them ideal for roasting, while their earthy, nutty flavor also makes them great for baking and topping with salted butter.
These Moo Shu Wraps use purple potatoes to lend a sweet, nutty crunch and pop of color to the dish.
If you need a little help once you’re back in the kitchen, our guide to cooking with potatoes should get you off to a great start.
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