Know your Spuds

The Humble PotatoMmmm, man food, meat and potatoes. And yet this is a nutritional food blog, so can I still do man food? I know can do healthy meat (but that is another post) but can I do healthy potatoes?

Yes, yes I can.

But first, a primer on the humble spud.

Potato Primer

Potatoes are swollen stems, or tubers, of a vine in the nightshade family. They come in many varieties and can generally provide more calories per acre than almost any other crop, which makes them great as a starch staple.

There are many varieties of potatoes, but the three main ones are red skin, yellow, and russet. Russet and red skin potatoes have white flesh, yellow potatoes (also called gold or Yukon gold) are yellow inside and out.

Red skin potatoes are small waxy potatoes, they have lower starch content and can better hold up to liquids without falling apart. This makes them excellent in stews or cooked with roasts or in any application where you will be doing long wet cooking. The skin of red skins is also often left on, merely cleaned with a stiff brush before cooking. Of course red skin potatoes are also good mashed.

Yellow skin potatoes are medium, medium in size, medium in wax, medium in starch. They’re generally considered to make the best mashed potatoes and are also good in fried applications, and do alright in a stew. These are the ones I buy most often. You can leave the skin on or take it off with these ones.

Russet potatoes (the big brown ones) are large mealy potatoes and aren’t at all waxy, they’re good baked, and pretty much only baked. They aren’t as good mashed as yellow skin potatoes, they don’t hold up in stews or other slow cooking dishes like red potatoes. I only buy these if I’m baking them individually.

Potato Health

Alas spuds are much maligned as unhealthy, but when you get right down to it and look at the calories in a typical potato you’ll notice something odd, namely, there isn’t all that many calories. Indeed, the potato hardly has any more calories than an apple.

What gets you with potatoes is the butter, the sour cream, the actual cream, the gravy, and everything else that you add to them. They’re rather bland alone afterall and it is all those high fat (though, you can make healthy gravy) toppings that make the overall dish unhealthy.

So, don’t be afraid to cook potatoes, just make sure you don’t smother them in butter. In situations where you’re not going to add anything to them they can be quite healthy, in moderation of course, a pound of any food at dinner will pack on the pounds. The healthiest application for a potato would be baked plain, but barring that when you use them in stews they aren’t seasoned with anything other than the stew broth, so the overall calorie addition thanks to the potatoes should be relatively low.

On the flip side, potatoes really don’t offer that much in nutritional value, not a lot of fiber, vitamins, or minerals. So in that regard they’re not doing you any favors.

What about sweet potatoes? Well, botanically speaking they’re not at all related. Sweet potatoes are rhizomes, potatoes are tubers, however sweet potatoes are healthier than normal potatoes. Not because they have less calories, in fact they have slightly more. Sweet potatoes are healthier because they are full of vitamins and minerals, they’re considered a superfood like carrots and in fact the survival of early American colonists has been directly attributed to the nutrition stored sweet potatoes provided during the winters. Also, sweet potatoes taste great when just seasoned with something like cinnamon, which doesn’t add any calories to the final dish.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

This recipe isn’t actually very straightforward, because first you have to make garlic oil.

First step, buy some nice crusty artisanal bread, from a bakery, not an aisle. Then get some fresh raw garlic and some olive oil, normal is fine, you don’t need extra virgin.

Peel the garlic bulb and separate the individual cloves, peel the cloves (try smashing them to assist the skin in letting go of the clove). Fill up a small glass baking dish, the smaller the better, with the cloves from 1 bulb. Then cover with the olive oil until the cloves are all submerged. Cover with aluminum foil and put in an oven at 350 (you did preheat the oven right?) for 50 minutes.

When your 50 minutes are up pour the entire thing through a strainer, with the oil falling into a dish (you’re saving the oil). Put the garlic cloves in a small container, add italian seasoning (rosemary, thyme, basil, parsley, or just get an “Italian Seasoning” product that is premixed) and a pinch of salt, and mash gently with a fork or spoon until you have a paste.

Next, grate some “parmesan” cheese (parmigiano reggiano, aged 1 year atleast, better yet 2 years, expect to pay $15-$20 a pound for it, but it is worth it. Don’t use that stuff in a can, tip… save the rind when you’re done with the wedge you buy and use it to flavor a soup or stew, just toss it right in during cooking and remove it before serving)… so grate the cheese. Then slice your bread, spread on the garlic paste you made, cover with the cheese, and place on a cookie rack under the broiler in your over until the cheese is bubbly and starting to turn brown (keep your eye on it! it’ll happen quickly). Remove from oven, and enjoy the best garlic cheese bread you’ve ever ate.

Meanwhile on the counter a dish of olive oil will be cooling, except since you cooked it in garlic for 50 minutes it is now garlic oil. Put this in a little container (they sell neat little glass oil flasks at stores like Bed Bath and Beyond for a buck or so) and save it for when you make potatoes (or otherwise want garlic flavored oil).

Oh… right… potatoes, this post is about potatoes not garlic. So, you have garlic oil, and you have your chopped up potatoes. Put your spuds in salted boiling water until they’re done (when you can easily stick a fork in). Remove them from the heat, drain them, add some more salt to taste (start with a teaspoon), add parsley (the seasoning, not the garnish, there are two different kinds, the seasoning is technically called “Italian flat leaf”), and a few tablespoons of your garlic oil. Mash and serve (or hit it with some of that awesome parmigiano cheese and then serve).


  1. I stumbled across this blog when looking for high protein muffin recipes – I leave the house at 6:20am and get home at 6:45pm, sometimes later, and I am always looking for easy things to grab for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during the week. I am very impressed with the ingredients and information describing them and the why behind using them. I wish more and more of the mainstream food industry cooked like this. I have had major digestive problems my entire life, and I strongly believe mainstream food is a contributor. Keep up this wonderful blog!

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