Pick your potato

As we come to the end of another gardening season, the squash, pumpkins and potatoes are usually the last to be harvested and stored for use for the next month or two. A reader asked me a question about potatoes and wondered why there seemed to be such a difference in taste and characteristics between various types of potatoes. She said she could tell a big difference between red potatoes and white potatoes and wondered why that was and if there were better uses for one type over another.

She is right, in that there are different culinary attributes between various types of potatoes and some lend themselves better to some methods of preparation than others. There are more than 4,000 different types of potatoes, although most grocery stores only carry a few of the most popular types. Here are some characteristics of some of the most popular:

• Russet — Also called baking potatoes, these have brown skin, are low in moisture, and higher in starch. They are ideal for baking or mashing and they cook up relatively dry and fluffy.

• White — With skin ranging from ivory to pale gray, this variety is moister than Russets and lower in starch. They hold up well when boiled.

• Red — Their dense, red, crisp texture — helping slices and chunks retain their shape during cooking, makes them an excellent choice for salads, sautés and grilling.

• Yellow — With golden flesh and a creamy texture, yellow potatoes are delicious roasted, grilled, or steamed.

• Blue and purple — Prized for their deep hues inside and out, these heirloom spuds have a delicate but familiar flavor. Their pleasing appearance also enhances a variety of recipes.

• Sweet potatoes and yams — Roots of a vine in the morning glory family, sweet potatoes are elongated with tapered ends. Yams are large tubers of tropical vines. The sweet potato is typically sweeter and softer. Both can be roasted, baked, steamed or mashed.

Picking the right variety of potato can definitely enhance your potato-eating experience. I know that my grandma and now my dad prefer a certain variety of white potato when making the traditional lefse for the holidays. Yukon Gold yellow potatoes bake up so well when I make scalloped potatoes. If you’re looking for a baked potato to serve as a side, you can’t beat the soft, fluffy texture and taste of the classic Russet potato.

Unfortunately the lowly potato sometimes gets a bad rap and is felt to be too high in calories and low in nutrition. More often than not, the issue is that the toppings we put on the potato are the culprits when it comes to calories and poor nutritional content. The potato itself is low in fat, low in sodium, a good source of potassium, contains some vitamin C and is a good source of fiber if eaten with the skin.

The actual size of the potato is another variable to consider. Some potatoes can be very large and then that constitutes more than one serving. A small plain baked potato that is about 3 inches in diameter would contain about 130 calories. If you have a digital scale, you could weigh your potato to see just what size it is in relation to an actual serving. The My Fitness Pal app notes that a medium sized potato would weigh 213 grams and contain 160 calories. By weighing your potato you could determine the appropriate portion size for your use in your individual diet plan.

Whether you bake them, grill them, scallop them or put them in soup, potatoes are a low cost accompaniment to many meals. Picking the potato that best suits your menu can make a difference in the taste of your final product. Thank you reader for your interesting question.

Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

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