A Magazine about the Hudson Valley’s local economy, published by Hudson Valley Current.

No small potatoes

By Jennifer Muck-Dietrich

There are around 200 varieties of potatoes grown in the United States and 20 million metric tons of potatoes sold. According to Cornell Cooperative Extension, New York State ranks 12th in production with an average of 27,000 acres planted. The yield in NYS alone is $63,000,000. Potatoes rank as the number one vegetable in economic value. That’s no small potatoes! They grow very well in the Northeastern states because of the favorable soil, ideal growing conditions, plentiful water and an industry committed to advancing both the research and technology. The long, warm days and cool nights ensure maximum productivity and consistency, and the cold, hard winters help keep pests and disease at bay.

Of the 200 varieties grown, each fits into one of seven potato categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling, and petite. Within each category, each variety has certain characteristics: waxy, floury, and new.

A waxy potato has a creamy, firm texture when cooked, thanks to their low starch and high water content. They keep their shape when cooked, making them ideal for boiling, steaming, and roasting.

A floury potato has a low water content and high starch. Sugars convert to starch during the maturation process in the field. When cooked, they have a dry, fluffy texture which is accentuated by baking and mashing, They are also good for frying as the low sugar levels mean less chance of burning.

The new potato refers to any potato harvested before reaching full size.

Let’s get to know the categories:

Russet Potato. Russets are the choice potato for baking or frying because they develop a crispy crust and stay dry on the inside. They make light & fluffy mashed potatoes and seem to be the choice potato for baking. However, they require copious amounts of butter and sour cream to cut the dryness due to their low moisture content. Major varieties: Burbank, Norkotah, Ranger, Goldrush, and Centennial

Yellow Potato. Yellow potatoes range in size from marble to large, round to oblong. Light tan skin with yellow to golden flesh. Slightly waxy, velvety and moist texture. They have a subtly sweet, rich, and buttery flavor with a medium sugar content. The naturally yellow color and the creamy texture make them an excellent choice baked, roasted, or mashed with little or no butter needed. Major varieties: Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn, Agate, Santina, and Bintje

Red Potato. Small to medium in size. These little gems have thin, red skin and a white, waxy, and moist flesh. They are slightly sweet in flavor with a medium sugar content, and stay firm throughout cooking whether roasted, stewed, or boiled. The vivid red skin adds appealing color to potato salad and side dishes. The moist, sweet texture is divine mashed or baked. Major varieties: Chieftain, Norland, Pontiac, and Ruby

White Potato. White potatoes are small to medium in size, and round to oblong in shape. Their skin is light tan or white, and the flesh is pure white. The skins are very delicate and thin, but the inside flesh has medium starch qualities giving them a dense, slightly creamy texture. Sweet, mild flavor comes from the low sugar content. These beauties hold their shape after cooking and the thin skins add perfect texture to velvety mashed potatoes. No need to peel. They also make very good french fries. Major varieties: White Rose, Cascade, Superior, Kennebec, and Cobbler

Purple/Blue Potato. The skins of these small to medium potatoes come in a range of colors from blue to deep purple to red. They also come in many shapes, ranging from oblong to round to fingerling. The true magic is in the flesh colors though: blue, purple, lavender, red, pink, or even white. They are moist and firm, have a nutty, earthy flavor, and a low sugar content. This potato retains its shape while cooking. A mixture of these potatoes adds color and delicious flavor to potato salads. To keep the colors vibrant when cooking, microwave, steam, or bake. Blue and red potatoes have two to three times more antioxidant than white. They contain cancer fighting anthocyanins, are an excellent source of vitamin C, and are a good source for of fiber and iron. Major varieties: Purple Peruvian, Purple Majesty, Blue and Red Adirondack

Fingerling Potato. Fingerling potatoes are two to five inches long, finger shaped or oblong. The skin colors vary from red, yellow, orange, purple, or white. The flesh can be red, purple, yellow, white and, at times, streaked with reds or blues. They have a firm, waxy texture and the complex flavors are buttery, nutty, and earthy with a medium sugar content. Pan frying and roasting brings out their robust taste. Major varieties: LaRatte, Banana, Pinto, and Rose Finn Apple

Petite Potato. Think of these as “baby potatoes.” They have the same skin and flesh color as if they were fully grown ,as well as the same shape, texture, and sugar content. However, their flavor is more concentrated. They are considered to be low quality, yet fetch a high price.

Potatoes are a living food. They continue to undergo metabolic processes after harvest, making proper handling and storage very important. Ideal storage temperature is between 45-50 degrees with high humidity, 95%. Avoid moisture. Potatoes require air circulation to limit spoilage. To avoid flavor transfer, do not store near apples, pears, garlic or onions. Keep them out of excessive light so they do not turn green. Turning green is a response to light exposure. It is a potatoes natural defense against insects, disease and herbivores. 

Here we are in 2019, and modern potato growers are facing the exact same hurdles they faced when the potato was first introduced to Europe and North America back in the 1740s, including Colorado potato beetle, late blight, and weed pressure. However, the arsenal of chemicals to fight back has become a billion dollar industry. According to the USDA’s Pesticide Data Program, 37 different pesticides are found on conventional potatoes. Conventional growers spray chemicals to kill the potato vines to aid in harvest by desiccating all surrounding plant material and to condition the tuber to reduce bruising and skinning during harvest. Storage potatoes are treated with a sprout inhibitor, chlorpropham, to lengthen dormancy. Root vegetables easily absorb pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides that wind up in the soil. Keep this in mind when you are enjoying those perfectly shaped, golden french fries from the fast food restaurant. It’s so important to know where your food comes from.

Heavenly Mash

4 medium white potatoes, chopped into 1 inch cubes

1 sweet potato (peeled), chopped into 1 inch cubes

2 Tbs. butter

2 Tbs. sour cream

Salt to taste

Place both white and sweet potato in medium saucepan and fill with cold water. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes (or until a knife easily pierces the potatoes). Drain, then put the potatoes back into the pot. Add the butter and let it melt, then mash them together with a masher until they are creamy. Add salt and sour cream. Enjoy!

Vegan German Potato Salad

2-4 medium blue potatoes (do not peel) chopped to 1inch pieces

2 medium red potatoes (do not peel), chopped to 1 inch pieces

2 medium yellow potatoes (do not peel), chopped to 1 inch pieces

3 shallots, diced 6 pieces of vegan bacon

2 Tbs. apple cider vinegar

2 Tbs. vegan butter spread

1 Tbs. maple syrup

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup water

Boil potatoes until tender, drain, and set aside. In a large skillet, saute the shallots on the vegan butter spread until golden brown. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar, then add the water and maple syrup, and let simmer until it has reduced in half. Chop the vegan bacon and add to the pan with the potatoes. Gently toss until they are coated. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm.