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Friday, February 1, 2013

Potatoes:


The potato is a starchy tuberous crop.   It is the world's fourth largest crop following rice, wheat, and maize.   There are about 5000 potato varieties worldwide.   The potato was first domesticated  in the region of modern day Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia between 8000 and 5000 BCE.   What  we call sweet potatoes today actually are members of another family of plants and the yam is also different from the sweet potato.

The potato is best known for its carbohydrate content, predominantly starch, but humans can actually survive healthily on a diet of potatoes supplemented only with milk or butter which contain the two vitamins not provided by potatoes (vitamins A and D).  The potato contains vitamins, mineral and an assortment of phytochemicals.   Potatoes also contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkloids, as do eggplants and tomatoes.  The toxins affect the nervous system causing weakness and confusion.  The good news is the toxins are concentrated in the leaves, stems, sprouts, and fruits.  So, before cooking you'll want to remove  any sprouts or "eyes" as well as any green spots.

One of my first jobs in the grocery business was to remove eyes from potatoes.  It was at my grandfather's store where the potatoes would come in fifty pound bags.  If they were around a little too long the potatoes would start to sprout.  I would be assigned to "knock" the eyes off the potatoes to prepare them for display.  I was ten years old at the time, but many years later as a supermarket produce manager I was still knocking eyes off the potatoes when necessary.

Potatoes should be firm with relatively smooth skin and good color.   Look for only a few eyes  with no cuts, dark or soft spots, and no wrinkled or wilted skin.   Green skin indicates the potato has been exposed to light.  Cut away the green and knock off the eyes when preparing.   Potatoes like cool temps (45 to 50 degreesF.  Refrigeration, however, can turn starch into sugar  and may darken the potatoes when cooked.  Potatoes are best kept in the coolest, nonrefrigerated part of the house, away from light  and well ventilated.

Potatoes are prepared in many ways skin -on or peeled, whole or cut up, with seasonings or without.  The only requirement is cooking to swell the starch granules.  Most potatoes are served hot, but some are cooked then served cold such as potato salad and potato chips. 

There are about 100 varieties of potatoes sold in the U.S.   Each will fit into one of these seven type catagories.  I've also included their best uses.
Russett Potatoes:  baking, frying, mashing and roasting.
Red Potatoes:  roasting, mashing, salads, soup/stews.
White Potatoes:  mashing, salads, steaming/boiling, frying.
Yellow Potatoes:  grilling, roasting, mashing, salads.
Purple/Blue Potatoes:  roasting, grilling, salads, baking.
Fingerling Potatoes:  Zpan frying, roasting, salads.
Petite Potatoes:  salads, roasting, frying.

So eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.