There are several thousand different potato types, from tiny blue fingerlings to huge baking russets. One of the most popular crops in the world, potatoes are a dietary staple that can be prepared in a variety of ways. Potato types can be grouped by the ideal method of cooking: some potatoes are better for baking, others are ideal for boiling, and some are considered multipurpose, meaning they can be prepared in a large number of ways. The potato's starch content is the key to determining how it should be cooked. Exotic potato varieties range in color from yellow to purple.
Baking potatoes are high in starch and usually have a dry, rough exterior. They become light and fluffy when baked and are ideal for mashing and frying as well. The large, brown potatoes commonly sold in most grocery stores are baking potatoes. Many baking potatoes are labeled russets or Idaho, though hundreds of individual varieties exist. Some blue and purple-fleshed potatoes are considered baking potatoes as well, though they are usually marketed as specialty or gourmet versions.
Boiling potatoes have a moist, waxy flesh and thin, smooth exterior peel. The outside of a boiling potato can be brown, red, yellow, or blue and will often have a smooth, shiny appearance. Potatoes meant to be boiled can be round, oblong, or long and thin tubers, depending on the variety. The waxy interior of boiling potato types makes them ideal for serving in chunks, cubes, or slices in hot dishes; the pieces will hold together well and not dissolve in sauces or broth. Since boiling potatoes hold their shape well, they are often called for in potato salads and other cold recipes.
Multipurpose potato types combine the characteristics of baking and boiling potatoes, and can be used for most recipes. Common multipurpose potatoes include Yukon golds and red potatoes. Purchasing multipurpose potatoes allows the home cook to buy a single type of potato but create a wide selection of finished dishes. Specialty potato types, like colorful fingerlings and new potatoes of all varieties, fall into the multipurpose category.