Exploring Potato Varieties

Once you've tasted your first harvest of baby red-skinned potatoes, beautiful blues or flavorful fingerlings, you may never be satisfied with a bag of generic white potatoes again. See which of these varieties may be right for your garden.

  • Potatoes are no harder to grow than any other vegetable crop, and you can get a generous harvest from just a few plants. They even make pretty and productive container plants. The hardest part of growing potatoes may be choosing from the hundreds of heirloom and hybrid varieties.

    The number of days from planting until the tubers are fully mature (when the vines turn yellow) are usually separated into three groups: early (less than 90 days), midseason (90 to 110 days) and late (more than 110 days). You don't always have to wait that long to enjoy your harvest, though: You can start gathering \"new\" potatoes for fresh eating after the plants start to flower. Late-season varieties tend to be best to store for winter use.

  • White Potatoes

    These are the classic kinds, with tan-colored skins and white insides. White potatoes tend to be good for a variety of purposes in the kitchen, including baking, boiling, mashing and roasting.

  • 'Katahdin'. A classic mid- to late-season variety, 'Katahdin' produces generous quantities of rounded to oblong tubers. 'Katahdin' stores well and is delicious in winter soups, as well as in a variety of baking uses. It also makes superb mashed potatoes and hash browns.

    The plants are large and spreading, with light purple flowers, and they perform well in a wide range of growing conditions.

  • 'Irish Cobbler'. Cultivated for more than a century, this variety is still enjoyed by home gardeners who want an early harvest of a good multipurpose potato. 'Irish Cobbler' has fairly deep eyes, which can make peeling a bit of a chore, so some gardeners prefer 'Kennebec', which is a bit later but has larger tubers and shallower eyes.

    'Irish Cobbler' produces rounded, medium-sized tubers on medium-sized, upright to spreading plants with white-tipped, pale purple flowers.

  • 'Elba'. The medium-sized to large, oval to rounded tubers of 'Elba' mature late in the growing season and are excellent for storage. Enjoy 'Elba' baked, boiled, mashed or in any of your other favorite potato dishes.

    The vigorous plants have light purple flowers and show good resistance to several common potato diseases.

  • 'King Harry'. This midseason, multipurpose variety produces good yields of medium-sized rounded tubers.

    The upright, light purple-flowered plants bear especially hairy leaves, which discourage feeding by potato leafhoppers, Colorado potato beetles and flea beetles. If these hard-to-control pests have made potato-growing a challenge for you in the past, give this hybrid a try.

  • Russet Potatoes

    Russet potatoes are also white inside, but their netted or rough, brown skin and oblong shape are distinctive features. Russets tend to be lower in moisture and higher in starch than ordinary white potatoes, making them ideal for baking. They're fine for mashing, too, and many consider them the best potatoes for french fries.

  • 'Butte' offers high yields of medium-sized to large, oblong, tan-brown tubers late in the growing season. 'Butte' cooks up into mouthwatering baked potatoes and is great for frying. It's also fine for mashing, boiling and soups.

    The medium-sized, upright to spreading plants produce white-tipped, pinkish purple flowers and show good resistance to common scab and potato virus X (PVX).

  • 'Rio Grande Russet'. An offspring of 'Butte', 'Rio Grande Russet' is a midseason variety with smooth, elongated, medium-brown tubers that store well. 'Rio Grande Russet' is delicious baked or roasted, as well as in a variety of other dishes.

    The large, upright to somewhat spreading plants bear light purple flowers and produce high yields.

  • 'Silverton Russet'. This high-yielding midseason variety produces smooth, long, golden brown tubers. 'Silverton Russet' is a good keeper, but once you experience the excellent flavor when it's baked, fried or mashed, you may not be storing the tubers for long.

    The plants are medium-sized, mostly upright and bear white flowers.

  • 'Sierra Russet'. This adaptable, late-season variety yields an abundance of oblong to long, medium-sized to large, rough-skinned tubers that store well. It's hard to beat for classic baked potatoes, makes for flavorful mashed potatoes and is excellent for fries.

  • Red Potatoes

    The term \"red potatoes\" commonly refers to varieties with relatively thin, pinkish-red to reddish-brown skins and bright white flesh, though some are yellow inside. Red potatoes are wonderful for a wide variety of uses in the kitchen.

  • 'Bliss Triumph'. Also known as 'Red Bliss', this early season heirloom variety matures into large, blocky, pinkish red tubers, but it's often harvested at much smaller sizes as \"new potatoes.\" The upright plants have pale purple to white flowers and produce high yields. Many cooks prize this flavorful potato for steaming and potato salad. It's also good for mashing, and it bakes well.

  • 'Red Pontiac'. One of the most popular red potatoes, this variety matures later than 'Bliss Triumph', so it's considered to be a midseason variety. Also sold as 'Dakota Chief', it produces lots of medium-sized, rounded to oblong tubers with very thin, deep red skins. 'Red Pontiac' works well for both boiling and baking, and it's marvelous for mashed potatoes.

    The plants are large, mostly upright plants with white-tipped, light purple flowers.

  • 'Red Norland'. This early to midseason variety produces good yields of large, oblong, smooth-skinned tubers. The plants were developed for northern regions but adapt well to a range of growing conditions and offer good resistance to common scab. 'Red Norland' is excellent for mashing, boiling and frying. It also cooks up into moist baked potatoes.

    The plants are large and spreading with pinkish-purple flowers.

  • 'Red Dale'. Also sold as 'Reddale', this early season variety forms large, rounded to blocky tubers that keep well in storage. 'Red Dale' is great for baking and roasting as well as boiling.

    The plants have good to excellent resistance to verticillium wilt and common scab. Growth habit is medium to large with purple flowers.

  • 'Colorado Rose'. Enjoy this flavorful variety in all of your favorite red-potato recipes: boiled, mashed, roasted, steamed or in salads. 'Colorado Rose' is an early to midseason variety known for producing generous quantities of smooth, oval tubers.

    The purple-flowered plants are medium-sized and semi-upright.

  • 'Red Cloud'. This mid- to late-season potato forms rounded, deep red tubers that store very well. With drier flesh than other red-skinned potatoes, 'Red Cloud' is excellent for a variety of purposes, including baking, boiling, frying, mashing and potato salad. Plant habit is medium-sized and spreading, with purple flowers.

    The plants are resistant to several troublesome potato diseases, including common scab and early blight.

  • 'Desiree'. With smooth, pinkish red outsides, 'Desiree' looks like just another red-skinned potato, but the inside is creamy yellow. This European favorite is gaining popularity elsewhere, too, for its generous yield, good keeping quality, resistance to several diseases (including late blight) and versatility. Enjoy 'Desiree' in any of your favorite potato dishes.

    The compact to medium-sized, spreading plants of this midseason to late variety have pinkish flowers.

  • 'Rose Gold'. Like 'Desiree', 'Rose Gold' is a yellow-fleshed red potato. This midseason variety produces rounded to oval, medium-sized to large tubers. Baked, boiled, roasted, steamed, or used in salads or soups, 'Rose Gold' works well for a wide variety of recipes.

    The plants offer good scab resistance and are semi-upright plants with pinkish-lavender flowers.

  • Red-Fleshed Potatoes

    Some red potatoes are really red, with pinkish-red to deep red skins and pink to red insides, too. These beauties hold their color best when boiled, baked or roasted. You can also mash them, though they tend to turn paler when you add milk.

  • 'All Red'. Also sold as 'Cranberry Red', 'All Red' is a midseason variety with large, rounded tubers that are bright red on the outside with varying amounts of pink on the inside. 'All Red' is especially good for boiling or steaming, or for a pretty pink potato salad or light-pink mashed potatoes. It also makes beautiful and tasty roasted potatoes.

    The medium-sized, semi-upright plants have lavender flowers.

  • 'Mountain Rose'. Early to midseason 'Mountain Rose' produces medium-sized, rounded to oblong tubers. Outside, they are a rich rosy-red; inside, they're pink and white (usually more pink than 'All Red', which is one of the plant's parents). 'Mountain Rose' works well for a variety of purposes: It's moist and flavorful when baked and also looks great when boiled, fried, mashed, steamed or used in potato salads.

    The semi-upright, pinkish-purple-flowered plant produces generous yields.

  • 'Adirondack Red'. When you cut into the large cherry-red, oblong tubers of this early to midseason variety, you'll find rosy-red flesh inside. 'Adirondack Red' stays reddish pink when boiled or steamed and is beautiful in potato salads. The color is even richer when baked, fried or roasted; it's lighter but still distinctly pink when mashed.

    The vigorous, high-yielding, spreading plants bear pinkish purple flowers.

  • Yellow Potatoes

    \"Yellow\" refers to the creamy to buttery yellow insides of these potatoes, hidden inside tan, brown or even red skins. You can enjoy them in a wide variety of ways, including beautiful, buttery-looking mashed potatoes.

  • Yukon Gold. Long prized by gourmet cooks, this early to midseason variety is widely available in grocery stores. Multipurpose 'Yukon Gold' is very good when baked, boiled, fried or mashed.

    The plant forms medium-sized to large, oval tubers on medium-sized, upright, purple-flowered plants.

  • 'Carola'. This increasingly popular mid- to late-season variety has medium-sized, oblong tubers with thin, smooth skin. 'Carola' is especially good for baking, frying and roasting, but you can also enjoy its creamy texture and rich flavor in a variety of other dishes.

    The medium-sized, spreading plants show good drought tolerance and produce high yields.

  • 'Bintje'. Developed in the Netherlands, this prized late-season heirloom produces medium-sized to large, oval tubers. Many potato aficionados consider 'Bintje' (pronounced BEN-jee) to be tops for flavor in any sort of potato dish.

    The medium-sized, white-flowered plants are adaptable and productive in gardens.

  • 'Yellow Finn'. This heirloom variety forms medium-sized to large, thin-skinned tubers that have a blocky oval to pear shape. With a distinctive touch of sweetness to its flavor, 'Yellow Finn' is outstanding for baking, boiling, frying, mashing and roasting. It's also super in soups and holds its shape well for potato salads, too.

    The mid- to late-season, medium-sized plants have white flowers.

  • 'German Butterball'. Think of this variety as a russet potato with yellow flesh inside. This late-maturing heirloom produces small to medium-sized, oval to oblong tubers with a lightly netted skin. Long-lasting in storage, 'German Butterball' is also great when harvested early as new potatoes, and it's delicious no matter how you prepare it.

    The medium-sized to large, upright, white-flowered plants are productive and offer good disease resistance.

  • 'Island Sunshine'. Developed on Prince Edward Island, 'Island Sunshine' is a late-season variety that yields medium-sized, rounded tubers. This all-purpose potato is especially tasty when baked, boiled, fried or roasted.

    The compact to medium-sized, spreading plants bear pinkish-lavender flowers and offer good disease resistance, especially to late blight.

  • Charlotte. Considered exceptional for boiling and potato salads, this potato is versatile enough to also work well for baking, frying, roasting and more.

    'Charlotte' matures early in the season, with thin-skinned, oblong to oval tubers produced on medium-sized, purple-flowered plants.

  • Purple or Blue Potatoes

    Just as \"red potatoes\" can be either white or red (or sometimes even yellow) inside, \"purple potatoes\" or \"blue potatoes\" may be purple-blue outside and white inside or purple-blue all the way through. You can use these beauties for a wide range of cooking purposes. Those that are purple-blue on the inside usually hold their color best when baked, fried or roasted, but you can boil them too.

  • 'All Blue'. One of the best-known blue potatoes, 'All Blue' produces large, oblong tubers that are nearly black outside and purple-blue inside, usually with a paler ring right under the skin. They reach full size late in the growing season, but you can harvest them earlier for summer or fall cooking. 'All Blue' isn't just a novelty potato: It tastes great and looks gorgeous when baked, boiled, fried, roasted or steamed. It's stunning in potato salad but can turn an unappealing lavender-gray color when you add milk for mashing.

    The large, vigorous plants of this heirloom variety have lavender-blue flowers.

  • 'Adirondack Blue'. This relatively new hybrid has deep purple-black skin, and the inside is a rich purple throughout. 'Adirondack Blue' keeps its rich color well nearly any way you prepare it, turning light purple-blue when mashed.

    This midseason variety produces white flowers on purple-tinged stems and a relatively high yield of oblong tubers.

  • 'Caribe'. This early variety is a blend of violet, purple and tan on the outside and bright to creamy white inside. The oblong tubers can get large, but many gardeners like to harvest them at smaller sizes to use as new potatoes. 'Caribe' is terrific for baking, boiling, frying or steaming and exceptional for mashing.

    Adaptable and productive, the medium-sized to large, spreading plants bear pale lavender flowers and produce large, oblong tubers.

  • 'Purple Viking'. This early to midseason variety produces medium to large tubers with bright white flesh and bright purple and pink skin. 'Purple Viking' is an outstanding all-purpose potato for any of your favorite recipes, and it stores well, too.

    Plant habit: The small- to medium-sized, spreading plants have purple flowers and are resistant to potato scab.

  • Fingerling Potatoes

    \"Fingerlings\" get their name from their slender shape. These gourmet favorites have thin skins, so there's no need to peel them, and they're relatively small, so they cook quickly even if you leave them whole.

  • 'Russian Banana'. Also known simply as 'Banana' or 'Banana Fingerling', this is one of the best-known varieties among the fingerlings. This late-maturing potato produces an abundance of slender, elongated to slightly curved tubers that have creamy brown skin and light yellow flesh. Many cooks prize 'Russian Banana' for potato salads. Its flavor also shines when baked, boiled, fried, roasted or steamed.

    Plant habit is small- to medium-sized with purple flowers.

  • 'Swedish Peanut'. Also sold as 'Peanut' or 'Peanut Fingerling', among other names, this widely grown fingerling is small, almond-shaped and produces tan-skinned tubers with yellow flesh. The late-maturing, medium-sized, spreading plants have white flowers. A bit drier than 'Russian Banana', 'Swedish Peanut' is especially delicious baked or roasted, but you can also boil or steam the tubers or use them in potato salads. They also store well.

  • 'French Fingerling'. Also known as 'Nosebag', this mid- to late-season heirloom produces plump, elongated tubers that are larger than those of most fingerlings. They have pinkish-red skin and light-yellow flesh that's often streaked with pink or red. Flavorful and versatile, 'French Fingerling' adapts to a variety of uses, and it lasts well in storage, too.

    The large spreading plants have purple flowers and are very productive.

  • 'La Ratte'. Also listed as 'Laratte', 'Princesse La Ratte', 'Ratte' and a variety of other names, this mid- to late-season heirloom produces small- to medium-sized oblong tubers that have tan skins over yellow flesh. 'La Ratte' is a gourmet treat no matter how you prepare it, but it's especially nice when simply baked, boiled or roasted, so you can fully appreciate the rich flavor.

    The medium-sized, semi-upright plants have pale purple flowers and show good resistance to common scab.

  • 'Rose Finn'. The medium-sized, long, slender tubers of this mid- to late-season fingerling are pinkish tan on the outside and yellow inside. Like many other heirloom varieties, 'Rose Finn' is sold under other names (in this case, 'Rose Finn Apple', 'Rose Fir', 'Pink Fir' and 'Ruby Crescent'). Enjoy this delectable fingerling in any of your favorite potato recipes.

    The scab-resistant plants are large and semi-upright, with white flowers.

  • Cooking Qualities. When you read potato descriptions, you'll come across a lot of opinions about the traits and flavors of each variety. Some folks use terms like \"waxy\" or \"moist\" to refer to potatoes they think are best for boiling and potato salads (like most red-skinned potatoes) and \"starchy,\" \"mealy\" or \"dry\" for varieties they prefer for baking, mashing or frying (russets, for instance, fall into this group). The truth is, though, it's possible to prepare pretty much any recipe with any potato; it really comes down to your personal taste and your preferred cooking techniques.

  • Still stumped by all of the options? Visit some local farmers' markets to see which varieties growers in your area are having luck with. Buy several different kinds, and try them out in your favorite recipes to find out which you'd like to grow for yourself. Or, purchase one pound each of seed potatoes of several varieties you think might be interesting (give away the extras if you don't have room to plant them all) and have fun experimenting with harvesting times and cooking methods. You may eventually settle on one or two favorites, or you may keep trying different kinds each year; either way, you simply can't go wrong with homegrown potatoes.

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