How to select the right potato


How to select the right potato

by Gail L. Winfree
Stripes Europe

The German love affair with the potato goes far beyond the ever-so-popular "Pommes Frites" (French fries), Germany’s top street food smothered with ketchup and mayonnaise.

Potatoes are a German staple that pairs well with nearly every dish in Germany. Whether in soups, boiled, mashed, fried or served as French fries, the average German eats roughly 60-65 kilograms of potatoes each year.

The potato first appeared on German tables around 1715 and by 1814, German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote, “Whole in the morning, mashed for lunch, sliced for supper—that’s the way it should be. It’s healthy.” It’s safe to say that the potato has earned its title of “king of vegetables.”

Selecting the right potato

More than 50 varieties of German potatoes, not including the foreign types such as the common Dutch Bintje, are available in markets. By law, German groceries are required to state where each type of produce originated (Israel, Spain, France, etc.) and the exact variety of vegetables.

When buying German potatoes, buy local. The Palatinate region is one of Germany’s largest potato growers and the local Pfälzer potatoes are some of the best in the world. If you haven’t gathered by now, kartoffel (sometimes called Speisekartoffeln) is the German word for potato, and the locals often call them grumbeer.

Germany’s many varieties of potatoes are divided into three categories: festkochend (waxy), vorwiegend festkochend (medium waxy) and mehlig (mealy). German stores label potatoes based on these three categories with a colored coded strip: green for festkochend, red for vorwiegend festkochend and blue for mehlig.

Festkochend potatoes (green strip) have a low starch content, which means they hold up well after cooking. Their peel does not burst during cooking. They have a tough consistency and are fine-grained and damp. During boiling, baking or roasting, they keep their tough structure. This makes it suitable for potato salad, baked potatoes, fried potatoes and casseroles. They also brown quickly during roasting and frying.

Vorwiegend Festkochend potatoes (red strip) have a medium level of starch, and the peel easily bursts during cooking. They are moderately damp, fine-grained and a little bit drier after cooking than the waxy sorts. This is the most often used potato in Germany because it can be used in most recipes. It is also an ideal companion for gravies and sauces since it binds well and absorbs easily.

Mehlig Kochend potatoes (blue strip) bake up light and fluffy, mash and purée easily and can be used to thicken a broth. The peel of these potatoes opens during intense cooking. After cooking, the meat of the potato is dry, coarse-grained and soft. If they are cooked too long, they fall apart in the water. Mealy potatoes can be easily cut up and are particularly suitable for making mashed potatoes, potato dumplings (Schupfnudeln), Gnocchi and croquettes.

Frühkartoffeln (new potatoes) exist in all three categories of cooking potatoes. Their tender skin makes them a delicacy in Germany where they are boiled in their skin and served with butter and herbs.

Tips for cooking potato

After selecting the right potato, you need to consider a few things. During preparation, potatoes lose nutrients like vitamins and minerals. These losses can be substantially reduced by proper preparation and cooking procedures.

Overcooking and keeping potatoes unnecessarily long in warm water can lead to considerable nutrient loss. If the potatoes are cut, the loss is even greater.

Always wash potatoes before cutting as this destroys cells, which releases materials and liquid quickly. This causes oxidization and is the reason they turn brown.  

Cut away green spots and generously cut out any sprouts. To be on the safe side, you should throw away potatoes with several green areas, as well as potatoes with green sprouts.

To avoid discoloration, process peeled potatoes immediately.

Also, be sure to avoid soaking peeled potatoes because water-soluble nutrients are quickly lost from the potatoes.

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