The most-eaten American vegetable is, by-and-far, the potato. Blame it on the French fries that come with every fast food entrée. Blame it on our demand for creamy mashed potatoes at every holiday. Or just blame it on the soft spot we hold in our hearts (right next to the bacon and eggs) that begs for crispy hash browns at least once a week. Some of the most common questions we have about these tubers run the gamut from nutrition to food intolerance to how to test if they’re done. I hope this handy Potato Reference helps answer those and gets you inspired to cook:
1) Are potatoes gluten-free?
Gluten is a protein that only occurs in members of the wheat family. You find it in wheat, farro, barley, kamut, rye…but not potatoes. In fact, potato dishes offer a plethora of savory options when trying to cook gluten-free dinners and sides. Red potatoes soak up Mexican flavor in a Roasted Salsa Verde stew. Diced potatoes work great as a satisfying filler for tacos or enchiladas. An easy breakfast recipe (that will satisfying even a brunch crowd) is as simple as diced potatoes, peppers, and chili powder. And potato salad is a classic go-to. Make it chilled in the summer for picnics or serve it slightly warmed in the winter for dinner parties. I promise, no one will miss the gluten.
2) Are potatoes fattening?
To put it bluntly…FAT is fattening. Or, rather, overconsumption of calories is fattening.
To put it more scientifically, the author of “The Starch Solution”, Dr. John McDougall, has always advocated the benefits of a whole-food, plant-based diet as a way to improve one’s health, lose weight, and increase longevity. As much bad publicity as the innocent potato has gotten throughout recent years, McDougall points to histories of civilizations that have lived off carbohydrate-heavy diets. In the early 19th century, Russians and Polish citizens survived their strenuous lifestyles fueled by meager potato dishes. In Peru, where the potato first sprouted, the Incans have been climbing the Andes Mountains for centuries, subsisting on a starch-heavy diet. McDougall points to his own experiment, where he and his wife ate an “all potato and greens” diet for 10 days. They enjoyed potatoes in every form - from steamed to baked to roasted to stuffed. They cut out all meat, dairy, and refined oils/sweeteners. After 10 days, they “each lost 10 pounds, felt great, and continued our love for potatoes”. Rather than blaming the potato for our growing obesity rate, perhaps we should be blaming the oil in which their fried, the cheese we’re sprinkling all over them, or the high-fructose sugary ketchup we serve with them.
Rather than skipping the potatoes, try first to skip the oil. A good place to start is these Baked Potato Latkes or Southwestern Baked Fries
3) Do Potatoes have GMO’s
US law doesn’t currently require GMO-foods to be labeled so there’s no real guarantee either way if you’re eating something that is or is not a GMO. In 1995, Monsanto™ introduced the GMO potato New Leaf™ to the farmers who supply McDonald’s™. In a great story reinforcing the power of consumers’ voices, there was a huge backlash at McDonald’s™. Within five years, the Golden Arches™ behemoth was quietly telling their farmers to stop growing the GMO-spuds. They reverted to the original, disease-susceptible Russet, and farmers continue to avoid the GMO species.
4) What’s the better potato – Russet or Red?
Depends. What are you making?
Russet potatoes have a great starchiness that makes them ideal for creamy potato leek soup, latkes, gnocchi, and fries. They are budget-friendly and make an easy go-to dinner. For someone cooking for just one or two people, it’s hard to find a meal as satisfying and easy as stuffed baked potatoes. The filling options are endless -- from frozen broccoli and nutritional yeast “cheese” to roasted peppers and smoked paprika. Buy a sack of Russets today, and you’ll have your backup dinner-emergency ready for months.
For more creamy texture and a variety of colors, Red Potatoes, Yukon Golds, Purples, and Fingerlings all shine. They offer a spectrum of colors that can jazz up the most mundane potato salad or mashed potato dishes. Their colorful skins are thin and delicate, a fact you should savor as you enjoy NOT peeling them. While they might cost a little more than their Russet compatriots, they still are very budget-friendly, often around $1-$1.50/pound. Just as the stuffed Russet makes a simple, easy weeknight dinner, a few microwaved Red Potatoes can be transformed into a satisfying entrée in mere minutes. Again, these are handy for cooking-for-one meals, offering a blank canvas for endless flavor options, from Southwestern chili powder and lime to a bright, lemon tahini dressing.
5) When is a potato done cooking?
When it easily slides off the end of a sharp knife.
Julie Child reminisced on her love of potatoes in an interview on The Splendid Table in 1995. As the upcoming Fourth of July holiday approached, she shared her favorite potato salad recipe. She reminded us all that properly cooking the potatoes is crucial:
“The most important thing is to cook the potatoes properly. I've had an awful lot of potato salad where the potatoes were not quite cooked through. You just can't eat it. It takes all the pleasure out of it... crunchily undercooked potatoes are horrifying.”
To test a potato doneness:
1) Take a small paring knife.
2) Stab the potato all the way to the center.
3) Lift the knife up.
4) The potato should slide off easily.
5) If it does not, cook longer and check again.
For some fun! Latkes in 30 seconds...
Need more help shopping for or learning about the many varieties of potatoes?
Join me at Chicago’s Green City Farmer’s Market for a quick tour of some of my favorite heirloom:
Or check out this impressive blog from Huffington Post which offers more details: