A Guide to Popular Types of Potatoes

An essential guide to the most popular types of potatoes. With so many choices available, there are key characteristics in flavor and texture to look for when selecting. Learn the differences and uses to make the right decision for cooking.

An essential guide to the most popular types of potatoes.
Table of Contents
  1. Types of Potatoes
  2. Starchy
  3. Waxy
  4. All-Purpose
  5. Popular Potato Varieties
  6. Russet (Starchy)
  7. Sweet Potatoes and Yams (Starchy)
  8. Red Potato (Waxy)
  9. White and Yellow Potatoes (All-Purpose)
  10. Purple Potatoes (All-Purpose)
  11. Selection
  12. Storing
  13. Cleaning
  14. Health benefits
  15. Potato recipes

The culinary applications of the beloved potato are endless. From fried, mashed, roasted, boiled, steamed, and baked, the versatility of this vegetable is impressive. It’s no surprise that these edible tubers Solanum tuberosum from the nightshade family is one of the highest consumed crops around the world.

Types of Potatoes

There are an estimated 200 varieties of potatoes sold in the United States, which can be classified into a number of categories based on the cooked texture and ingredient functionality. This can lead to head-scratching questions about how to choose what is right for recipes.

Starchy

Also known as “mealy,” starchy potatoes, which include Russets, Idahos and many yams and sweet potato varieties, are, as the descriptor says, high in starch. They are also low in moisture, fluffy and absorbent, making them ideal for baking, frying, boiling, and mashing. Because the flesh flakes and separates easily after cooking, they do not hold their shape compared to waxy potatoes.

Waxy

Waxy potatoes are low in starch, high in sugar and moisture, and tend to hold their shape, even after cooking. They have thinner skin, a smoother texture and are generally smaller and rounder. Common varieties include French fingerling or Red Bliss. They hold their shape well after cooking, they’re ideal for boiling, roasting and incorporating in dishes like gratins or potato salad, where you’ll want the potato to stay intact.

All-Purpose

All-purpose potatoes, like Yukon Golds, fall somewhere in the middle. They are less starchy than your typical high-starch potato and hold their shape better than them, too. But they are decently absorbent and fluffy, making them suitable for any type of potato dish, especially in a pinch. These can be used for mashed potatoes, as well.

Russet (Starchy)

Russet potatoes

Russets (Burbank) or also known as Idaho potatoes are oblong and large in size, have a rough brown skin and mealy flesh. In my opinion, are the best for mashing, baking, and frying. Especially for homemade mashed potatoes, they fall apart easily when boiled and hold their shape once whipped and stay light and fluffy in texture.

Sweet Potatoes and Yams (Starchy)

Sweet Potatoes and Yams

These tubers are like dessert! The welcomed sweetness can commonly be purchased in two types. The oblong-shaped and pointed tip red sweet potatoes (featured above) have a reddish-brown skin and sweet, moist orange flesh.

The other is Cuban, white, or boniato that has a light tan skin and yellow, more dry flesh. Both work well for roasting, baking, steaming, boiling, mashed or pureed, and used in desserts like pies, muffins, and bread. I’ve even spiralized them into noodles If you’ve cleaned and dried the thick skins well, you can roast them for a crispy treat, plus they pack fiber and nutrients.

Yams are less sweet compared to sweet potatoes. They can have a flesh that is white to even deep red in color and can be substituted for sweet potatoes depending on the application.

Red Potato (Waxy)

Red Potatoes

These round, small, red thin-skinned potatoes have a white and waxy flesh that is creamy when cooked. They can come in the Red Bliss, Norland, and Red Pontiac variety. They work well for crispy roasted potatoes, boiled, steamed, or simmered for soups and stews.

White and Yellow Potatoes (All-Purpose)

White Potatoes

These round or oblong potatoes have a thin golden-colored skin, with a yellow or white flesh that is waxy in texture. These are also known as all-purpose potatoes (featured above) and come in White Rose or Finnish yellow varieties. They can be boiled, steamed, roasted or sauteed.

Yukon Gold is another variety of white potato that is round, medium-sized, with a thin a tender pale yellow skin. They are prized for their creamy golden flesh, that has a buttery flavor. They can be boiled, baked, roasted or fried. I like to add them to mashed cauliflower potatoes for a richer nutty taste.

Purple Potatoes (All-Purpose)

Purple Potatoes

These vibrant and regal colored spuds have a thin deep purple colored skin and bright purple, firm and starchy flesh, with an earthy and slightly nutty flavor. When cooked the skins darken, while the flesh slightly lightens in color. They can be roasted, boiled, simmer, and steamed. Larger purple potatoes are good for baking and light mashing.

What’s unique about the potato is the extra antioxidants coming from anthocyanins in the purple flesh and skin for extra plant nutrients! Add these to your diet for added benefit. They come in Purple Majesty, Purple Peruvian (fingerling variety), All Blue, and Purple Viking to name a few.

Selection

When picking potatoes, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Choose ones that are heavy and very firm, with clean skin and a just few eyes (indents). They should be void of soft spots, cracks or cuts.

Any tuber with a green tinge or sprouts should be avoided–they have been overexposed to light (remember, potatoes are at home in the ground) and therefore released too much solanine, a toxin that can make you sick. Potatoes should never taste bitter, either.

Storing

To store, they should be kept in a cool, dark area of the house–ideally at 50 to 65°F 10 to 18°C). You want to avoid warmth and humidity, as this will cause them to sprout or go bad. Do not refrigerate potatoes!

Temperatures below 40°F (4°C) converts the starch to sugar, resulting in a sweeter taste and potential burning when fried, and streaks or gray appearance after cooking. Starchy and all-purpose potatoes should last for up to two months, and waxy potatoes a few weeks when properly stored.

Cleaning

Most potatoes will come with some dirt attached to the skin, so you’ll want to get a brush and give them a light scrub with water. Another way is to fill up a large pot with water, put the potatoes in, and let them soak for a bit right before cooking–most of the dirt will fall to the bottom of the pot.

Give them one last rise, and you’ll be ready to go. After peeling potatoes, especially Russets, immerse in a bowl of water to prevent enzymatic browning on the surface.

Health benefits

Not only do potatoes taste delicious, but they also have some health benefits! They are very easy to digest complex carbohydrates, with very little to no fat. They contain a good source of minerals and vitamins, especially potassium and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) which is a coenzyme that assists in the breakdown and utilization of carbohydrates.

Potato recipes

What are your favorite kinds of potato and how do you like to prepare them? Do you see any I should add to the list? I can’t wait to hear!

Filed under:

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy.

Jessica Gavin

I'm a culinary school graduate, cookbook author, and a mom who loves croissants! My passion is creating recipes and sharing the science behind cooking to help you gain confidence in the kitchen.

Jessica's Secrets: Cooking Made Easy!
Get my essential cooking techniques that I learned in culinary school.
Jessica Gavin standing in the kitchen

You May Also Like

Reader Interactions

6 Comments Leave a comment or review

  1. Adrian Holbrook says

    Hi. We live in Thailand where you never know what type of potato you are buying. Today we bought some ROCCO spuds but are now having real problems finding out is they are waxy or floury. Best for salad or chips? Can you help. Thanks Adrian and Sarah

    • Jessica Gavin says

      It looks like it could be an all-purpose type of potato, a medium starch content. So it could give a more dense and creamy mashed potato, or hold up well for potato salad or roasted.

  2. Emilie says

    I made the mistake of buying potatoes a few days ago. Brought them home and they are round, not long. Tonight I decided I wanted a baked potato. I put a couple into the microwave and gave them 9 minutes – and they were hot and soft. I added some butter and salt and with the first taste I thought, “What’s wrong with these?” I looked at the bag, they were white potatoes. They had almost no taste, even with butter and salt. I don’t like them. Now I’m stuck with a bag of them. I didn’t realize some potatoes taste better than others. I usually buy the big russet potatoes, but almost never bake them. I put them in vegetable soups and when baking a roast. I’ll pay attention now to what kind of potatoes I buy.

Leave A Reply