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Understanding the Different types of Potatoes

Photo by Nic D 

Potatoes, a staple in kitchens worldwide, come in three main varieties: starchy, waxy and versatile all-purpose. Understanding these types of potatoes is key to success in the kitchen. This essential guide unravels the mysteries behind these categories, helping you master the art of selecting the perfect potato for baking, boiling, roasting and beyond.  

Starchy potatoes

As their name suggests, starchy potatoes are high in starch and low in moisture. This unique composition makes them ideal for various cooking methods that require a fluffy, soft texture. When cooked, these types of potatoes become light and airy, perfect for absorbing flavors like butter and cream. Their high starch content also means they can break down quickly and easily, making them the go-to choice for dishes where a smooth, creamy consistency is desired.

Russet potatoes

Mention potato and the russet variety likely comes to mind, often known as Idaho potatoes for their large size and rough, brown skin. Ideal for baking, these types of potatoes excel in dishes like French fries and air fryer hasselback potatoes, where their high starch content creates a crispy exterior and fluffy interior. Russet potatoes are a versatile, dependable choice for a variety of recipes.

Sweet potatoes

With their bright orange flesh and distinct sweetness, sweet potatoes offer a unique alternative to traditional white potatoes. This type of potato has a drier texture, making it ideal for dishes including crispy fries, flavorful pies, instant pot sweet potatoes, and smooth soups. Often baked whole, sweet potatoes add vibrant color — especially purple sweet potatoes — and a candied taste to meals, setting them apart from their starchy counterparts.

“Sweet potatoes have become a staple for me. When microwaved whole with the skin on, they become tender and steamy inside. Alternatively, I like slicing them raw, drizzling with olive oil, seasoning with spices and baking to get a nice caramel finish, typically around 30 minutes.” 

 — Jere’ Cassidy, One Hot Oven

Waxy potatoes

With their low starch and high moisture content, waxy potatoes are great in dishes like soups, stews and salads where retaining shape is key. Their firm, smooth texture holds up well during cooking, making them ideal for recipes that involve boiling, slicing or roasting, while their creamy taste enhances the dish’s flavors.

Fingerling potatoes

Fingerling potatoes, a cherished waxy variety, are small and elongated with smooth, pink skin and yellow flesh, often featuring a subtle pinkish ring just beneath the skin. Their slightly nutty flavor and firm texture make them perfect for roasting whole or slicing into salads. Cooking them with their skins on not only adds vibrant color and texture to dishes but also highlights their unique heirloom qualities, making them an excellent choice for enhancing a meal’s visual appeal and taste.

New potatoes

New potatoes, harvested young, are also in the waxy category. They are characterized by their thin, delicate skin and tender texture. New potatoes are excellent boiled and dressed with butter and herbs, showcasing their natural, subtly sweet flavor.

Red bliss potatoes

Red bliss potatoes, with their small size and bright red skin, are popular for potato salads and roasting. Their firm texture ensures they don’t fall apart during cooking, making them perfect for dishes that require potatoes to maintain their shape. Try this roasted air fryer red potato recipe for the perfect side dish to almost any meal.

Photo by Kindel Media

All-purpose potatoes

All-purpose potatoes, aptly named for their versatility, find the perfect middle ground between starchy and waxy varieties. With a moderate starch content, they are robust enough to hold their shape during cooking yet still capable of achieving a desirable fluffiness.

Ideal for a wide array of dishes, these types of potatoes are the go-to kitchen staple, able to adapt to most cooking methods, from boiling and baking to frying and mashing. Their balanced characteristics make them an indispensable asset in any kitchen, ready to perform admirably in almost any potato-based recipe.

Yukon Gold potatoes

Yukon Gold potatoes stand out in the all-purpose category with their thin skin and creamy, golden flesh that offers a unique balance of waxy and fluffy textures when cooked. Ideal for a range of culinary uses, from boiling and mashing to roasting and frying, these potatoes are exceptionally versatile. Try my Taco Potatoes with Yukon Golds!

Their ability to create a creamy mashed potato that is neither too dense nor too light makes them a favorite. Moreover, their characteristically thin skin is particularly appealing for serving children or those with sensory concerns, making Yukon Golds a true workhorse in the kitchen for various dishes.

“I find myself reaching for Yukon Gold or maris piper potatoes as the all- round option most often! They are not as starchy as russet potatoes but still hold shape well. They’re also fluffier than waxy potatoes.” 

— Shruthi Baskaran-Makanju, Urban Farmie

Purple potatoes

Purple potatoes, known for their oblong shape and vividly dark purple skin, bring a striking visual element to any dish. Retaining their vibrant color even when cooked, these potatoes are high in antioxidants and best suited for roasting, baking or adding a pop of color to soups and potato salads. Their unique taste and texture, similar to white potatoes, make them an excellent choice for enhancing the flavor and visual appeal of meals. 

Kennebec potatoes

White potatoes, a prominent in-between variety, are large potatoes with tan skin and white flesh, renowned for their versatility in the kitchen. With a moderate starch content and a slightly creamy, dense texture, they excel in various cooking methods including baking, mashing, frying and shredding into dishes like latkes. 

Kennebec potatoes also hold together well in boiling water, making them suitable for stews, soups and seasoned or spiced dishes. Their ability to absorb and complement flavors well makes them a preferred choice for many recipes.

Final potato thoughts

Exploring the types of potatoes starchy, waxy and all-purpose unveils their unique roles in cooking. This knowledge is key in transforming everyday meals, making the humble potato a staple in kitchens worldwide. Whether for mashing, roasting, boiling or baking, choosing the right potato can elevate a dish from ordinary to exceptional.



Gina Matsoukas is the writer, photographer and recipe creator of Running to the Kitchen. Focusing on healthy, seasonal, whole-food recipes, her work has been featured in various online and print publications including Food Network, Prevention Magazine and Women’s Health. Gina lives in central New York, where she enjoys an active outdoor life.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

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