The humble potato. Is there anything that’s as cheap, comforting, versatile or filling? I’m not sure and I don’t think I care to find out. They’re just too tasty. Right in the middle of our cold Aussie Winter it’s the perfect time to educate yourself on the many different varieties of spuds, as their flavour and nutritional profile should influence how you can best utilise this important staple in any kitchen!
Potatoes come from the Solanum or Nightshade family of flowering plants, closely related to tomatoes, eggplant, capsicum and different chilli peppers. They serve as an important part of many diets around the globe, whether as a side or a main dish, due to their vitamin, mineral and fibre content. When used correctly, potatoes can be a great source of healthy carbohydrates and are both nutrient dense and economically friendly!
They are the 4th most important food crop in the world, behind wheat, maize and rice, and for good reason. Read on to find out about the different varieties, uses and nutritional content of potatoes.
Unlike their name suggests, sweet potatoes aren’t actually related to their cream coloured counterparts, and instead belong to the bindweed family. Sweet Potatoes contain an array of vitamins and minerals, including iron, calcium, selenium as well as Vitamin C and B Vitamins. They are also unmatched in their high levels of beta-carotene, an antioxidant which is effective in raising the blood levels of Vitamin A.
Compared to regular potatoes, they contain a similar amount of water, carbs, fat and proteins, however they have a lower GI and higher amounts of both healthy sugars and fibre. Sweet Potatoes are versatile, and can be boiled, baked, steamed or fried, whatever way you like them. As a nutritious post-workout meal, try combining them with some cinnamon and a little bit of brown sugar to help speed up your muscle recovery! Add them to soups, curries or risottos to increase the nutritional value of your meal.
Purple Potatoes are easily identified by, well, their vibrant purple skin and flesh, they’re pretty hard to miss. They are actually part of the Sweet Potato family, and are similar to their orange siblings, yet are considered to be a little bit healthier. Purple Potatoes have a lower GI than Sweet Potatoes, and they contain extra antioxidants coming from anthocyanins. Any purple fruit, like eggplants or plums, contain a pigment that has an antioxidant role, called anthocyanins.
What this translates to, is a boost in the antioxidant capacity of blood, and a drop-in blood pressure. Thus, purple potatoes are seen as an effective hypotensive agent, lowering blood pressure and having anti-inflammatory properties.
Dutch Cream potatoes once originated from Holland but are now grown in Australia. The Dutch Cream’s that we sell are grown organically on top of the Great Dividing Range, in the central highlands region of Victoria. Dutch Cream potatoes are easily identified by their large oval shape, thin skin and creamy yellow flesh.
Their texture is rich and naturally buttery, so it’s perfect for making the classic mash, you can skip the butter and just add a little salt and pepper and you’re good to go. Alternatively, you can puree them quite easily for use in soups or even try roasting them to make crispy fries that remain fluffy on the inside! They’re known as the “Queen of Potatoes” for a reason.
Sebago potatoes are so popular in Australia, because they’re so versatile and are able to be grown throughout the year. A true all-rounder. They grow in a smaller oval shape, with white skin, and are great for mashing, boiling, roasting, baking or fried as chips! The Sebago is all purpose and can be substituted in almost any recipe, due to its versatility and mild flavour. They have a dry-ish flesh and are lower in starch, so their low moisture content makes them the ideal potato for crisping up into delicious fries or potato bites. Avoid using them in salads as they can become quite crumbly after boiling them.
Their mild flavour and small size mean you can dice them up and add them to any roast to absorb some of the juices from your pork, lamb or chicken. Adding just a little bit of cumin, rosemary, paprika or thyme will be enough to set the flavour of the Sebago’s right off!
Red Desiree Potatoes are part of the Red Potato family and are considered to be the healthiest of all potatoes, as they contain the highest levels of vitamins, minerals and healthy phytochemicals. They offer anti-inflammatory and anti-cancerous properties, B vitamins and niacin, helping with energy production and digestion. Whilst bananas are the poster child for the mineral potassium, on average they contain 422mg of potassium, whilst Red Desiree Potatoes on average contain 1670mg of potassium.
Similar to sweet potatoes, most of the fibre and antioxidants in the potato lies in their skin, so steer clear of peeling them, instead bake or boil them to optimise their nutritional content. Cut them up with the skin on to make delicious Desiree Chips, or use a mandoline to slice them up thinly to add some texture and colour to your salads!
Cleaning and Storage
Potatoes typically come pre-scrubbed and washed, looking pristine in plastic packaging on store shelves. But why? We all know potatoes are grown in the ground, and after purchase, we still wash and/or peel them before we cook with them. So why the disconnect?
I guess we’re lazy as humans or love the idea of a “clean” potato, when in fact, naturally grown potatoes, still with a bit of dirt on them, preserve themselves and last the longest. Potatoes should be kept in a cool and dark area of your house or pantry (between 10 – 18°C), avoiding warmth and humidity is the easiest way to avoid them sprouting or going bad. Also avoid refrigeration, as the lower temperatures in your fridge converts the starch in potatoes into sugar, giving them a sweeter taste, but eventually turning them grey and soft, spoiling your next meal.
If you buy organic potatoes with dirt still attached to the skin, fill up a large pot with water, put the potatoes in and let them soak for 20-30 minutes and most of the dirt will naturally fall to the bottom. Give them a final rinse under running water with a soft brush and you’re ready to go. Remember, that the skin of potatoes is often nutrient packed, so next time you cook potatoes, try making them “rustic” by baking with the skin still on!
Properly stored, large starchy potatoes (Sweet Potatoes, Purple Potatoes, Dutch Cream) should last for a couple of months after purchase, if stored properly. Whilst waxy potatoes (Red Pontiac, Sebago) should last for a few weeks to a month.
On a final note, as with everything, enjoy potatoes in moderation. They are an excellent source of Vitamin A and C, B Vitamins, fibre, potassium and complex carbohydrates, and can be an important staple in a healthy diet. If you’re frying them, or loading them with salt and butter, of course they aren’t going to be healthy (though they may taste amazing). But you should try your potatoes with the skin on, where possible, and remember that it’s your choice in how you prepare your spuds. Give sweet potatoes, purple potatoes or red potatoes a chance for some variety! They are low GI and contain a range of antioxidants and vitamins that aren’t found in white varieties and are a natural gluten and fat free treat that will keep you feeling full for hours!
Thanks for reading!