Throughout history, around the world, the humble potato has always been there. First cultivated by Andean civilizations thousands of years ago, potatoes are now grown, eaten, and loved in virtually every country on the planet. It’s unsurprising: Potatoes are affordable, accessible, easy to cook with, and versatile. They’re also filling, comforting, and soak up flavors well.
In north India, popular snack aloo tikki, for example, consists of spices and boiled potatoes. In England, bangers (sausages) and mash (potato) is a classic comfort dish. Boxty is an Irish pancake made with mashed potatoes, and in Korea, Gamja ongsimi refers to potato dumplings in broth. The list goes on. Potatoes are a globally-approved classic, and they’re not going anywhere anytime soon (and nor should they).
But while potatoes are popular (Americans eat roughly 126 pounds of potatoes per person per year!), are they healthy? Let’s find out. Here’s everything you need to know about potato nutrition, as well as some of the most popular types available, plus those all-important recipes.
Are potatoes healthy?
For quite some time, people have been grappling with the question: are potatoes healthy? While they are root vegetables, most varieties don’t actually count as one of your 5 A Day. And that’s because they’re high in starch, a form of carbohydrate that our body breaks down into glucose. “When eaten as part of a meal, potatoes are generally used in place of other sources of starch, such as bread, pasta, or rice. Because of this, they don’t count towards your 5 A Day,” the UK’s National Health Service notes.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not healthy—far from it. Potatoes are still a rich source of fiber, as well as vitamins and minerals. But how good they are for you depends on how you eat them. French fries, for example, are made from potatoes, but because of their salt and saturated fat content, they’re not considered healthy. The same goes for other fried and processed potato-based foods, like hash browns, for example.
Whole potatoes, cooked without added salt or fat, can provide many nutritional benefits. They’re a good source of fiber and carbohydrates, and they also contain protein, as well as nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin B6, magnesium, folate, and manganese. They’re also a very good source of potassium. In fact, they contain more potassium per serving than bananas.
According to research from Pennsylvania State University, eating one medium-sized potato a day, which is steamed or baked without added salt or saturated fat, can be part of a healthy, balanced diet. “Certainly eating chips or french fries should be discouraged, but there are healthy ways to prepare potatoes, so I do think that lumping them all together is a little bit unfair to the poor potato,” the study’s co-author Emily Johnson told Today in 2020.
Types of potatoes
Because potatoes are so loved, there are quite literally hundreds of varieties on sale around the world. In the UK, Maris piper potatoes are one of the most popular types, and in Italy, spunta potatoes are in demand. In India, kufri jyoti potatoes are the most cultivated. It would take a very long time to list all of the potatoes in the world, so instead, here are some of the most popular types in the US.
And fun fact: sweet potatoes aren’t on this list because they’re not actually the same as regular potatoes. They’re different in skin color, taste, and they grow differently (they need tropical temperatures). They’re also more nutritious, and unlike regular potatoes, they do count as one of your 5 A Day.
1 Russet potatoes
In the US, russet potatoes (also known as Idaho potatoes if they’re grown in the state) are the most popular variety of potato. They’re relatively large with dark brown skin and white flesh, and they’re usually used in mash, baked potato recipes, and processed into French fries too.
2 Baby potatoes
As you may have guessed from the name, baby potatoes, which are also referred to as “new potatoes,” are much smaller than russet potatoes. This is because they are deliberately dug up from the soil before they have fully developed. Their skin is also paler, their insides are creamy, and their flavor is a little sweeter.
3 Yukon Gold potatoes
With distinct yellow skin and flesh and pinkish eyes (small bumps or indentions which will sprout if left alone), Yukon gold potatoes are usually small or medium in size. They’re widely available across the US and can be used in most recipes that call for potatoes (but they’re particularly well-suited to mash because of their creamy texture).
4 Red potatoes
Not all potatoes have brown or yellowish skin. Red potatoes have (spoiler alert) reddish skin, which is usually very thin. Inside, these potatoes are still white, but they are less starchy than other brown-skinned varieties.
5 Fingerling potatoes
The main difference between fingerling potatoes and regular potatoes is their shape. While most potatoes are roundish, fingerlings are narrow and finger-shaped. They’re also small like baby potatoes, but that’s because they grow naturally this way, and not because they’ve been removed from the ground early. Their skin is thinner than other potatoes (which usually means peeling is unnecessary), and their white flesh is smooth, earthy, and buttery.
If all this potato talk has your stomach rumbling (and who can blame you), then good news: we’ve also got recipe inspiration. Potatoes can be cooked in many, many different ways, in many, many different dishes, but here are just a handful of examples for inspiration.
1 Simple Herbed Vegan Potato Salad
Small red potatoes are the perfect simple salad accompaniment, especially when drizzled with a deliciously tangy garlicky, lemony dressing. If you want to take things a step further, you can also add in some crunchy vegan bacon bits.
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2 Easy Miso-Butter Sheet Pan Smashed Potatoes
For this pan of savory, miso butter-infused smashed potatoes, you’ll need the smaller baby potatoes. This recipe is easy to make, super garlicky, and tasty, and will compliment any choice of vegan meat or protein perfectly.
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Terry Hope Romero
3 Potato Leek Soup With Broccoli Gremolata
Thanks to their creamy texture, potatoes make a great base for soups, especially for comforting, winter-warmer options. You can use pretty much any potato you like for this tasty soup, but Yukon or red potatoes will work particularly well.
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4 Cheesy Cauliflower Potato Casserole
If you tried to name a better match than vegan cheese and potatoes, the truth is, you’d struggle. These two ingredients were made for each other. Add in cauliflower, breadcrumbs, and garlic, and you’ve got yourself the ultimate comfort dish.
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5 Crispy Potato Latkes
Hanukkah or not, crispy latkes (which are essentially potato pancakes) are always tasty. For extra deliciousness, pair with applesauce or vegan sour cream.
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