We use some weird words to describe our food, and nobody primes their palates thinking about a big plate of “waxy” or “starchy” potatoes. But, there is more to this description than meets the eye. Potatoes have a huge range of textures and flavors, and you need to know which type to choose for each dish.
Let’s look at exactly what it means when we compare waxy vs. starchy potatoes, which varieties share common features, and which ones are best for specific recipes.
Before we get into what makes potatoes different from each other, let’s first figure out what makes them similar.
The potato is a root vegetable in a league of its own.
Above ground, we see the unimpressive flowers, leaves, and berries of the potato plant known as Solanum tuberosum, but the starchy, nutrient-packed tubers that grow in the soil beneath are the real stars of the show. With over 5,000 potato varieties available worldwide, this vegetable has been feeding the world for literally thousands of years, and every culture has its own specialties.
Potatoes can be roasted, baked, sauteed, steamed, grilled, and even microwaved. Let’s not forget the glory of French Fries, either!
The bottom line is that there are few ingredients on the planet that can be plucked out of the ground to deliver such incredible nutrition and taste with just basic preparation.
As long as you know some basic guidelines about how to cook them the right way (undercooking can lead to some unpleasant stomach problems), you have an incredible arsenal of recipes at your fingertips.
Picture the perfect baked potato or conjure up an image of Mr. Potato head. A starchy potato is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you think of this vegetable!
Also known as mealy potatoes, these varieties tend to have:
- Thicker skin
- Lower levels of moisture
- and high levels of starch
These properties shine through with simple preparations as in baked potatoes, which are ideal for absorbing tasty toppings like butter, sour cream, and cheese.
Starchy varieties are also the go-to base for mashed potatoes, a recipe that benefits from the fluffy structure of the interior and the fact that they fall apart easily when boiled. In addition to those two famous preparations, you want starchy potatoes whenever you make fries, whether they are long and skinny, short and thick, or in steakhouse wedges.
We love the comfort-food goodness of starchy potatoes and just how easy they are to prepare, not to mention you can buy a ton at once at a great price.
As far as varieties go, you can’t go wrong with a classic Russet potato, which is often big, beefy and holds up all your favorite toppings for a “fully loaded” meal.
Whether you peel them or enjoy the skin-on, the dense, nutrient-packed Purple potatoes offer a more earthy and rustic flavor. These go great with gamey proteins and savory root vegetables.
We also love Red potatoes for their consistent, medium-sized shape and the fact that the skins are less thick than the others. They are the perfect crossover (i.e. all-purpose potato) if you like your potato salad to be a bit more starchy and cohesive.
Finally, we can’t overlook the iconic Idaho potatoes, which are technically Russets but must be grown in-state and get a seal of approval before they’re shipped off. They have a slightly lighter look and feel, and make for the ultimate baked potato or fries.
With the basics out of the way, what are these waxy potatoes everyone’s talking about in cookbooks and online recipe blogs?
Essentially, waxy potatoes are any varieties that,
- Have a higher level of moisture,
- Less starch
- And thinner skin
What this basically means is that they retain their shape and firmness in any cooking process. Making it possible for them to hold up better in salads, soups, and stews, and have a slightly chewier texture when roasted or grilled.
In general, waxy potatoes are picked at a less mature stage, meaning the flesh is more firm and with a delicate flavor. Shape-wise, you’ll notice that waxy potatoes also tend to be more round and small, since they haven’t had the time to grow to the fullest extent.
So, which varieties of waxy potatoes should you grab at the store?
French Fingerling is often considered the most luxurious of the potato family, and their unique shape makes them a family favorite. They are super creamy and don’t need to be loaded with extra flavors to get the point across.
Red Bliss potatoes are another classic and appear in the best homemade potato salad recipes. Roasted with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper is an effective preparation as well.
Creamer potatoes are a real treat, and their consistent size makes them a cook’s best friend. The skin is barely noticeable and they cook fast. They are so buttery that you can bake them lightly and they still melt in your mouth!
Finally, any potatoes you see labeled New or Baby will fit the waxy description, and act the same way as the others.
We love grabbing a big bag of these round, multi-colored little guys and creating eye-catching medleys that really brighten up the dinner table.
When it comes to price per pound, you’ll probably end up paying a bit more for waxy potatoes, but their versatility and distinctive texture are well worth the price in our opinion.
We should also mention that all-purpose potatoes like Yukon Gold are a popular choice that fits the bill for waxy and starchy preparations, so grab a sack whenever you see them on sale!
Now that we know the lay of the land, let’s get to the recipes.
To make the most of those Yukon Golds, we suggest starting with a batch of Crispy Herb and Butter Oven Roasted Potatoes. They’re quick, simple, and give you a great sense of how both waxy and starchy potatoes cook in the oven.
When you’re ready to step it up, give these Mashed Potatoes a shot. The recipe is a bit more labor-intensive and you need to master the technique, but it’s a dish that every home cook should have in the repertoire.
If you want to showcase a medley of beautiful waxy new potatoes, you can’t go wrong with a Roasted Garlic and Parmesan recipe. It adds subtle layers of flavor to the vegetables while highlighting their unique texture.
Have a big bag of Russets to work with? We recommend trying out this Easy Twice Baked Potato recipe. It takes some time to perfect, but the results are so delicious that you’ll have no issue putting in the extra work. Plus, the whole family can pitch in!
Once you have these essential recipes figured out, you can aim for something more gourmet. Our take on Cheesy Potatoes Au Gratin is one of the most decadent waxy potato dishes out there, and a perfect side to any holiday roast.
When you have Red potatoes at the ready and not a lot of time to prepare for dinner, this Instant Pot Chicken recipe is going to help you out in a pinch. Everything cooks evenly and you end up looking like a home cook superstar without much effort!
Speaking of protein, remember that potatoes are not the main event on the dinner table. You’ll want to create balanced meals in which the meat, potatoes and other vegetables complement one another instead of fighting for the spotlight. For example, light waxy potatoes are best served with a zesty chicken or fish, while a big baked potato or wedge fries go along better with a ribeye.
Also, don’t be afraid to mix potatoes up with chicken or beef in one skillet! We have a great Autumn Chicken Skillet and Sweet Potato recipe to get you comfortable with that method.
Comparing waxy vs starchy potatoes isn’t really a debate, but a matter of smart selection.
Every recipe will require different properties from the potatoes, and you have to envision the final product ahead of time.
We’ve given you everything you need to know, so now it’s your turn to get cooking!
Remember, these rules aren’t set in stone, and you’ll find that some recipes work better with certain types of potatoes you wouldn’t expect.
It’s up to you to figure out the perfect potatoes for the job, and be willing to experiment before you uncover the ultimate approach.