The Different Types of Potatoes & When to Use Them

With so many varieties of potatoes available at the supermarket, it may be difficult to figure out which kind you need. The type and texture of a potato can greatly alter what it can, and should be, used for when you’re cooking dinner. Our goal is to give you a brief overview of the different types of potatoes, why their differences matter, and how best to use each of them.

The Different Types of Potatoes

Generally, potatoes fall into one of three categories: all purpose, starchy, and waxy. These types refer to the texture and chemical makeup of the potato, since what truly defines them is the amount of starch they contain. The more starch a type of potato has, the drier and crumblier the inside. That’s why the type of potato can play such a major part in how you cook it.

If you’re looking to take a specific recipe to the next level, choosing a specialized potato would go a long way.

As implied by the name, starchy potatoes are high in starch, while waxy potatoes have a low starch content. All-purpose potatoes tend to fall in between starchy and waxy in terms of how much starch they have, which makes them go-to potatoes for many. If you’re looking to take a specific recipe to the next level, choosing a specialized potato can go a long way. Ultimately, it’s all about the balance of a dish and picking and choosing which aspects of the ingredient you want to highlight.

Why the Type Matters

The level of starch in a potato can make it better suited to certain recipes and preparations than others. Starchy potatoes are great for frying since the external layer will absorb the oil and crisp up while leaving the inside fluffy. Additionally, the dryness of the starchy potato makes it easier to break down than waxy potatoes. This also makes them ideal for baked potatoes and mashed potatoes since they break down nicely when boiled or steamed and easily absorb the butter and cream you mix in.

So, what about waxy potatoes? Waxy potatoes generally have a higher water content, so they don’t absorb liquid as readily. This makes them best for stews and soups, since they won’t break down when cooked in liquid. They also tend to work best in potato salad, as they’ll hold their shape despite being dressed. Further, waxy potatoes are excellent for roasting, especially because their thin skins don’t need to be peeled.

You can boil them, mash them, put them in a stew — an all-purpose potato can meet the needs of any potato recipe.

As the name would imply, all-purpose potatoes are the midpoint between waxy and starchy potatoes. They have a moderate amount of both starch and water. This can make them great potatoes to buy in bulk since you can use them for most types of cooking. You can boil them, mash them, put them in a stew — an all-purpose potato can meet the needs of any potato recipe.

It’s all well and good to know when to use different types of potatoes, but it won’t help if you can’t tell them apart. The table below will break down some of the most common brands of potatoes by type. For identifying other kinds of potatoes, there’s a simple trick that works for most varieties. Look at the skin of the potato. If it’s thin, you’re likely working with a waxy potato. If it’s thicker and rough, you most likely have a starchy potato. You can get a better idea of the differences from the table below.

All-Purpose Starchy Waxy
Yukon Gold Russet Fingerling
Kennebec Jewel Yams Red Bliss
Hannah Sweet Potato Sweet Potato New Potatoes1
All Blue Idaho Russian Banana

1New potatoes aren’t specifically a type of potato, but rather young potatoes that were harvested before the crop fully matured.

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Potatoes are a really common ingredient to have in your kitchen because they’re so versatile. Despite they’re versatility, you can still misuse them if you’ve picked the wrong type. Now that you know the proper spud to pick, you can fry, mash, roast, and bake without fear!