Potatoes (About)

Russet Potatoes

By Cat, May 3, 2017 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

True potatoes (as opposed to sweet potatoes or yams, are members of the nightshade (Solanaceae) family, and come in many colors of peel, and some, like the purple potato may also have colored meat (giving them greater antioxidant content, due to anthocyanins that produce the purple pigment). They are delicious cooked in many different ways, of which Baked, Boiled, or Mashed instructions are included here.

Nutritive Value of Potatoes

There is a lot of controversy about the healthfulness of the humble potato; to me the main problem with the potato has to do with how it is cooked. America’s favorite way to eat a potato is as French fries or potato chips: deep fried in hot oil. There are two problems with this:

  • Carcinogenic acrylamide forms from the high heat of deep frying, and also from how the potatoes are stored. Most commercial French fries are frozen before being dropped into the hot oil; that very cold temperature of freezing also causes formation of acrylamide. See How to store potatoes, sweet potatoes/yams, and true yams for more.
  • It used to be (prior to the 1970s), potatoes were fried in lard. But then saturated fats got a bad rap and lard was replaced with seed oils: corn, soy, cottonseed, and later, canola. But these poly-unsaturated oils are oxidized by the high-heat of frying, turning them into dangerous free radicals that cause all kinds of problems in the gut and the whole body. Fortunately, many restaurants and home cooks are returning to lard or duck/goose fat, now that science has determined the fear of saturated fats was unfounded.

Broiling/grilling potatoes can also be problematic if they are placed directly under/over the heat source; baking potatoes at temperatures above 300F can also produce acrylamide.

Potatoes can also be slow-roasted, boiled or steamed, all of which are better than frying. They can be a base for a great sauce as Potato Dauphinoise (Potatoes Au Gratin). One of my favorite ways to prepare them is Greek-style (see Greek Style Roasted Potatoes, with Garlic, Lemon & Oregano).

But what about the health benefits of potatoes? Here are just a few:

  • Kukoamines in potatoes (and tomatoes) lower blood pressure (4);
  • They are high in vitamin B6 (pyridoxine as well as other forms), which is involved in more than 100 enzymatic reactions, such as making amino acids, heme (the protein part of hemoglobin), and phospholipids that make up cell walls. It also plays an essential role in methylation – transferring methyl (CH3) groups from one molecule to another – such as for switching genes on or off, or for detox (4).
  • Vitamins C, B3, B5 (pantothenic acid) and A; minerals potassium, copper, manganese, and phosphorus, are also present in good amounts (4,5).
  • Potato skin is high in fiber, but you have to eat the skin, not toss it on the compost pile.
  • The meat of the potato is rich in starch (5), some of which are ‘resistant starch’ (not easily broken down into sugar, so behave more like fiber and can help with insulin resistance.
  • The are good at fighting inflammation (5), especially in the digestive system, and many scientists believe most if not all disease starts with inflammation in the gut.

Basic Cooking Methods for Potatoes

Baked Potatoes

These instructions are adapted from my old Betty Crocker Cookbook (1). Russets or other bakers are best (see photo, above right), as they are drier and more starchy (not waxy) and thus more fluffy when baked.

Recipe: Wash and pat dry potatoes, and leave the skins on. If desired, wrap in bakers’ parchment and foil. Bake in preheated oven until tender; the lower the baking temperature, the less acrylamide that is formed. Baking times at various temperatures:

  • 375°F, 1 – 1¼ hour; or
  • 350°F, 1¼ – 1½ hours; or
  • 325°F, about 1½ hours

Slow-Roasted Potatoes

Roasting at a hot, dry heat produces carcinogenic acrylamide. But roasting in presence of moisture at lower temperatures (i.e., slow-roasting) will minimize acrylamide production. To slow-roasting them:

  • Parboil whole potatoes (skin-on) until they begin to tenderize – a toothpick will penetrate about ¼” (optional);
  • Cut potatoes into wedges (leave skins on), and place skin-down in baking/roasting pan;
  • Coat with a dressing made of olive oil, lemon juice and optional herbs;.
  • Roast at 300°F until tender, turning and basting several times.

See Greek-Style Roasted Potatoes for more detail.

Boiled/Steamed Potatoes

Red Potatoes

(Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)

This recipe is adapted from my old Betty Crocker Cookbook (1). New potatoes (round or fingerling) are best, such as Yukon golds, reds or fingerlings. These potatoes are waxy when cooked (their meat creamy rather than fluffy).

Recipe:

  • boiling potatoes, whole and washed. I recommend leaving the peels on, or you can pare a narrow strip around centers (save the strip of peel for potato peel broth).
  • filtered water (enough to be 1″ deep in saucepan)
  • ½ tsp unrefined sea salt per cup of water for boiling
  1. Fill saucepan with 1″ filtered water; add salt (½ tsp unrefined sea salt per cup filtered water) and bring to a boil. Add prepped potatoes, and return to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow boil, and cook until done, 20 – 25 minutes. (Alternately, you can steam them until done, about 18 – 22 minutes, but I don’t think they mash as well when steamed).
  2. Off heat; remove potatoes, and keep warm until ready to serve. If desired, gently toss them in a bit of melted butter, or butter/garlic combination.

Mashed Potatoes

This recipe is adapted from my old Betty Crocker Cookbook (1), and my own learnings from mashing potatoes for making lefse (potato flatbread).

You want to use a drier, starchy variety of potato, rather than a waxy potato. Russets and other bakers are best; yukon golds have a bit of wax, but can be used in a pinch. Do not use red boiling potatoes, new potatoes or fingerlings, as they are all too waxy and will not be fluffy when mashed. NOTE: If mashing for lefse, do not steam them.

You can add minced & mashed garlic, or other herbs and spices if desired.

Recipe (to serve 4):

  • 1 ½ lb potatoes, whole (about 4 medium); leaving the peel on until after cooking keeps the potato from taking up too much water
  • filtered water (enough to be 1″ deep in saucepan)
  • ½ tsp unrefined sea salt per cup of water for boiling
  • 4 Tbsp real butter
  • ¼ – ½ cup milk or cream, or a mix, to your preferred texture
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • paprika or other herbs/spices, to taste (optional)
  1.  Fill saucepan with 1″ filtered water; add salt (½ tsp unrefined sea salt per cup filtered water) and bring to a boil. Add whole potatoes, with peel, and return to a boil, then reduce heat to a slow boil, and cook until done, 20 – 25 minutes. (Alternately, you can steam them until done, about 30 minutes, but I don’t think they mash as well when steamed).
  2. Off heat; remove potatoes (retain water in pan for later), and let cool enough to handle.
  3. Remove peel and save for Potato Peel Broth (for another time).
  4. Mash potatoes (or rice them) in medium bowl, enough to make 2 cups; add butter and milk/cream, whipping with a fork.  Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, and any desired spices/herbs.

References

  1. Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, © 1986,1978, 1969 by General Mills, Inc; Published by Golden Press/New York, Western Publishing Company, Inc., Racine, WI
  2. OChef: ochef.com/167.htm
  3. Chef”s Thesaurus: foodsubs.com/Potatoes.html
  4. World Healthiest Foods on potatoes: whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=48
  5. Organic Facts on potatoes: organicfacts.net/health-benefits/vegetable/health-benefits-of-potato.html

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