As America's #1 vegetable and the world's fourth largest food crop, one form of potato or another can be found at practically every restaurant in the country. Boiled, roasted, fried, scalloped, or mashed, potatoes can do it all!
This incredibly diverse vegetable is chock full of nutrients that we need in our daily diet. While potato is definitely something to be eaten in moderation, it can’t be denied that potatoes have amazing health benefits you don’t want to pass up.
Potatoes were first cultivated between 8,000 B.C to 5,000 BC by the Inca Indians in Peru. In 1536, Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru and discovered the potato for themselves and carried the vegetable back to Europe where they spread rapidly over the next four decades.
According to the Maine Potato Board, potatoes arrived in the American Colonies in 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda sent potatoes to the Governor of Virginia at Jamestown.
It was found that potatoes contained most of the vitamins needed for sustenance and could be provided to nearly 10 people for each acre of land that was cultivated. It was also found that potatoes were much easier to grow and cultivate than most other staple crops. This caused potatoes to grow greatly in popularity!
Idaho, today's largest producer of potatoes, didn't begin growing potatoes until 1836 and now Idaho leads the nation in potato production by producing nearly a third of all U.S. potatoes.
In more recent news, in October 1995 the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in outer space!
The Top Health Benefits of Potatoes
Potatoes support digestive health
Potatoes contain a special type of fiber called “resistant starch,” which has the health benefits of both soluble and insoluble fiber. This starch, unlike other starches, does not break down into glucose during digestion, but rather acts as a prebiotic in the large intestine, creating beneficial cleansing bacteria.
This promotes a healthy gut, improved digestion of other nutrients, and can also prevent constipation and diarrhea.
Besides that, resistant starch decreases cholesterol levels, lowers the risk of colon cancer, and gives you the feeling of fullness so you don’t overeat and gain weight. Resistant starch is practically a jack-of-all-trades!
Potatoes help prevent disease
Potatoes contain antioxidants which protect your cells from disease- and cancer-causing free radicals. Antioxidants also protect your cells from oxidative stress, a phenomenon in the body that can lead to heart disease, cancer, arthritis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, inflammation, and respiratory diseases.
Most of the antioxidants in potatoes are contained in the skin. Potato skins can have up to 12 times more antioxidants than the inside of the potato, so leaving the skins on can be very beneficial. Besides that, the more colorful a potato is, the more antioxidants it will have.
Potatoes help lower blood pressure
Baked potato skin is a good source of potassium and magnesium—two chemical elements necessary for maintaining a healthy blood pressure. Potassium flushes out excess sodium in the body through the urine, decreasing blood pressure and the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Not only that, but potassium also eases tension in your blood vessel walls, allowing blood to pass through with less pressure build-up.
Magnesium is also known to lower blood pressure; however, it takes a bit longer than potassium to take effect. Still, while its benefits may not be as immediate, both chemicals are beneficial when it comes to blood pressure and heart health.
Buying Potatoes: What to Look For
There are a handful of different types of potatoes you can likely find at your local grocery store or market. All potatoes are generally mild and earthy in flavor, but there are some subtle differences you’ll want to be aware of before you start cooking.
Russet potatoes are oblong and oval-shaped with rough brown skin and many eyes. Its skin is floury and dry to the touch but tastes rich and hearty when cooked. These potatoes have a very mild, earthy flavor, and are best used for baking, frying, and mashing.
White, red and yellow potatoes are much smaller and rounder. These potatoes keep their shape when cooked and won't fall apart when cut after cooking. They’re sweeter and creamier in flavor than russet potatoes and should feel waxy to the touch. They work best for boiling, steaming, grilling, and roasting.
These potatoes can be mashed, but they won't be as fluffy as russet potatoes.
Purple potatoes are usually oblong or round and have an eye-catching purply-blue hue. When cut or peeled, you’ll see that the flesh itself also has a bright, often light pink or blue hue. These potatoes may have a higher starch content, and taste much nuttier than the others. They work best baked, roasted, and grilled. They’re perfect for salads, too!
Fingerling potatoes come in a wide array of colors but have a somewhat uniform shape. They’re oblong and about 2-4 inches long, and their skin should feel waxy to the touch. When eaten, they have a mild, buttery flavor. These potatoes are best served fried, baked, and (especially) roasted.
Petite potatoes are very similar to white, red, and yellow potatoes in texture, flavor, and use. The main difference, though, is that they are much smaller—hence their name. They work best fried, sauteed, baked, and roasted. What’s great is that, since they’re so small, they don’t have to be cut prior to cooking and save you prep time.
Regardless of potato variety, choose potatoes that are firm and have smooth skins without any sprouts or blemishes. Avoid potatoes with wrinkled skins, sprouted eyes, cut surfaces, soft or dark spots, decayed areas at the ends, or sunken spots.
Potatoes with a greenish tint should be avoided as well, as they have been overexposed to light and will likely have a bitter taste.
Also, make sure to purchase potatoes that are fairly clean but unwashed. Potatoes that are washed will spoil quicker!
When storing potatoes, make sure they are in a well-ventilated, cool, dry, dark area like a cool closet or dry basement. If they are kept between 45 degrees F - 50 degrees F, they will stay good for several weeks. If they are kept at room temperature or in a warm temperature, they will be good for about 1 week at most.
Cooking with Potatoes
Potatoes are a great, savory addition to any meal and can be cooked or prepared in countless ways. Before working with potatoes, clean them by soaking them briefly in cool water. Scrub off any dirt gently with a vegetable brush or sponge.
Then, peel to remove any sprouts or eyes. Remove any parts that are green under the skin.
To make sure potatoes do not turn dark, cook them immediately after peeling or cover them with water and add a small amount of salt, lemon juice, or vinegar to preserve them.
After that, you’re ready to start cooking! The four most classic potato recipes out there are probably French fries, baked potatoes, roasted potatoes, and mashed potatoes. Let’s start with French fries.
To make French fries, soak cut potatoes in lightly salted chilled water for about 1 hour, then fry in 300 degrees F oil for 5 minutes or until golden.
For baked potatoes, poke holes into your potatoes with a fork, then cover with olive oil and salt. Place in the oven for up to an hour at 425 degrees F. Serve each deliciously tender potato with a dollop of sour cream, butter, bacon bits, and chives. This is one of the healthiest ways to serve up a spud.
Roasted potatoes, a perfect side dish for meat and fish mains, can be made by cutting potatoes into quarters or eighths. Coat the pieces in oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and oregano, then transfer to a baking sheet. Roast them in the oven for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees F. Serve hot!
Last, but definitely not least, is mashed potatoes. Cut your potatoes into small pieces, then place them in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are soft. With a hand masher or mixer, mash the potatoes and mix in sour cream, salt, heavy cream, and butter until fully combined and soft.
If you’re looking for a great potato side dish to a main course, don’t just think about flavor—think about look and texture, too! There are so many amazing ways you can prepare potatoes; you can bet that there’s a potato dish perfect for every main course.