There are an estimated 200 varieties of potatoes sold in the United States, which can be classified into a number of categories based on the cooked texture and ingredient functionality. This can lead to head-scratching questions about how to choose what is right for recipes.
The humble potato is a staple in most households. Easy to bake, boil, or mash, it’s a veggie that can be incorporated into almost any type of meal. When you picture a potato, it may be a standard one with brown skin and a white inside, but there’s actually a whole world of potato types, all with their own unique tastes, textures, colors, and ideal cooking uses.
This guide isn’t even close to being exhaustive, but we’ll give an overview of the eight most common categories of spuds that you’re likely to find at any well-stocked grocery store. It’s time to break out that potato peeler and get to cooking:
Most potatoes grown in the US are of the russet variety, meaning they’re what most people picture when you say “potato.” With a mildly rough brown-grey skin, the flesh once cooked is light and fluffy and the skin becomes chewy.
Best uses: Roasting, baking, or mashing
Although they may be sold in the same part of the produce section, sweet potatoes technically aren’t potatoes. All potatoes are tubers, but sweet potatoes are actually categorized as a root vegetable and part of the nightshade family. They have a reddish orange skin that’s quite tough, meaning most sweet potato dishes are peeled before or after cooking. The interior is a bright orange, creamy, and sweet, making it good for both savory and sweet dishes.
Best uses: Roasting, baking, mashing
Red potatoes are one of the most waxy varieties, meaning they retain their shape even after cooking. Their skin is a reddish hue and thin enough that most recipes don’t require peeling. The red potato’s interior is bright white with a dense texture once cooked.
Best uses: Potato salad, soups, and roasting
Named after their pale colored skin and flesh, white potatoes are similar in taste and texture to russets, though with their much thinner skin you can often skip the step of peeling for a variety of recipes, as the exterior will become very soft while cooking.
Best uses: Mashing, roasting, frying, boiling
Roughly the shape of a large finger, fingerling potatoes range in size between two to four inches. They come in a variety of colors such as white, purple, yellow, and red. Fingerling potatoes have thin skins and a waxy interior that’s often streaked with veins of color. They’re commonly cooked whole or simply halved because their fun shape is often shown off in dishes.
Best uses: Roasting, baking, frying
With a naturally buttery flavor and velvety smooth interior, it’s no surprise that yellow potatoes are one of the most popular potato varieties. Their skin is thin but crisps up perfectly when fried or roasted. Yellow potatoes are sometimes referred to as “golden potatoes” but that likely comes from confusing them with Yukon Gold, a branded potato variety that touts a lower starch content.
Best uses: Frying, roasting, boiling, mashing
With a dark skin and lavender flesh, purple potatoes are hard to look past in the produce section. Due to their deep pigment, purple potatoes are more vitamin-rich than some potato varieties. Their interior is slightly floury and very starchy with a mildly earthy taste.
Best uses: Baking, roasting, boiling
These tiny potatoes aren’t an actual type of potato, but a classification of their size. Any type of potato (yellow, red, etc.) can be called a “petite potato” as long as it ends up being a very small spud. Even in a petite format, the potatoes will have the same flavor and texture of their larger versions, so keep that in mind when it comes to cooking.
Best uses: Boiling, roasting, steaming