Of course you’re going to eat potatoes on St Patrick’s Day. The question is, which kind?

By Sammy Goldfien
Updated June 30, 2017
Mashed Potatoes with Manchego and Olive Oil

St. Patrick’s Day is almost here, which means you’re possibly thinking about corned beef, cabbage, soda bread, and, of course, potatoes. It’s hard to extricate our vision of Irish cuisine from the starchy tuber (even though it’s actually native to the South American Andes and wasn’t introduced to Europe until the 16th century). According to the Lima, Peru-based International Potato Center (yes, there’s an International Potato Center) there are over 4,000 varieties of edible potato. With so many options—more than 100 available in the US—how do you choose the right one? Well thankfully, most of the potatoes we buy fit into 1 of 3 categories: high starch, medium starch, and low starch. Each type is good for some uses and not so good for others. Here’s your guide to all three, including a few side dish recipe ideas for each variety.

1. Starchy potatoes (aka baking potatoes):

Russet Potatoes
Credit: © Jane norton / Getty Images

These potatoes, which include russets, are relatively dry with a somewhat mealy texture. This makes them perfect for fluffy mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, and crispy french fries. Their lack of moisture also means they take on water if long-cooked in liquid, and disintegrate in soups and stews, which can be desirable if you’re using them as a thickener (as opposed to wanting them in chunks).

2. All Purpose (Medium Starch, Medium Moisture)

Purple Potatoes
Credit: © Getty Images/Dorling Kindersley

As the name suggests, potatoes with medium starch and moisture levels—like white potatoes, yellow/gold potatoes, blue potatoes, and purple potatoes—are versatile. They are a bit moister than starchy potatoes and generally hold up better to long cooking, but they still have a good amount of starch, so they can also be mashed and baked. They won’t turn out quite as flakey as starchy potatoes, but they’ll be deliciously creamy. They’re great cut into chunks in soups or salads, but also make a wonderful gratin.

3. Waxy (Low Starch, High Moisture)

Red Potatoes
Credit: © Donald Erickson / Getty Images

This group includes red potatoes, fingerlings, and new potatoes (young potatoes of any variety whose sugars haven’t fully converted to starch). They have very moist flesh that remains firm during cooking, so they’re ideal for long cooked dishes like braises, casseroles and soups. Waxy potatoes are also going to be your go-to for a Classic Potato Salad.