If you have celiac disease and follow a strict gluten free diet, you might have already stricken potatoes from your list of safe foods. It is important to remember, however, that potatoes themselves are completely gluten free – it is simply common preparation methods like frying them in shared oil that makes them unsafe for celiac sufferers.
As long as they are prepared by gluten free means, potatoes are completely safe for a gluten free diet. Keep reading to learn more about potatoes and how they can be safely incorporated into a gluten free lifestyle.
What Are Potatoes, Anyway?
This may seem like a silly question, but many people don’t realize that potatoes are not a vegetable but a starch. Technically speaking, they are tubers which grow underground much like root vegetables such as carrots and parsnips.
Though potatoes get a bad rap for being low in nutritional value, they haven’t always been viewed this way. In fact, potatoes have played a key role in human nutrition dating as far back as 200 B.C. potatoes were first cultivated in the Andes mountains of Peru and Bolivia where they were not just a source of food, but also a measurement of time (determined by how long it took to cook).
In more recent years, potatoes have become the enemy of fad diets such as the Atkins diet which advocates for low carb consumption as a weight loss tool. Even with these diets, however, the average American consumes 110 pounds of potatoes each year in the form of fries, hash browns, chips, and mashed, baked, or fried potatoes.
What Are the Different Types of Potatoes?
When you think of potatoes, you might picture a giant baked Idaho potato smothered in sour cream and cheddar cheese. Or maybe you picture a bowl full of golden mashed potatoes heaped with butter. The fact is that there are more varieties of potato than you may realize, and all of them are delicious.
There are over a dozen different types of potatoes, but they can generally be divided into three different categories – starchy, waxy, and all-purpose.
Starchy potatoes don’t tend to hold together well when they are cooked which makes them ideal for baking and frying. You can mash them as well, but they can become gluey when overworked. Waxy potatoes hold their shape a little better due to their waxy texture, so they are good for soups, stews, salads, and other dishes in which they are boiled, sliced, or roasted. All-purpose potatoes are exactly what they sound like – they are somewhat starchy but hold their shape well enough for most dishes.
To give you a better idea what kind of potatoes are out there, here’s a quick list of some favorites:
- Russet – These starchy potatoes are ideal for baking, though they also work well for frying and mashing.
- Sweet Potato – Though there are different varieties, most sweet potatoes are starchy with a sweet, nutty flavor.
- Fingerling – There are several types of fingerling potatoes, but they are mostly small waxy potatoes. Available in several different colors, fingerling potatoes are perfect for roasting.
- Red Gold – These all-purpose potatoes are medium in size with red skin and golden flesh. They have a smooth texture and sweet, nutty flavor that works well for baking, boiling, roasting, or mashing.
- Yukon Gold – Another variety of all-purpose potato, Yukon golds have a rough brown skin and golden flesh. They are perfect for mashing but can also be used in salads, fried dishes, and more.
The next time you head to the grocery store, take a stroll through the produce section to see how many different kinds of potatoes you can identify. You may be surprised to see that they come in a wide range of colors from gold or brown to bright orange and purple.
The Nutritional Value of Potatoes
Whether or not potatoes are healthy is, to some degree, a matter of opinion. Compared to leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables, potatoes are much higher in calories, but they are still a decent source of certain nutrients. One medium potato (about 150g) contains roughly 110 calories with 26g carbohydrates, 3g protein, 2g dietary fiber, and 0g fat. Potatoes also contain some vitamin C, potassium, vitamin B6, iron, and calcium. The specifics of nutrition vary from one potato variety to another.
Gluten Free Cooking Tips for Potatoes
With so many potato varieties to choose from, the options for preparing them are endless. Before you learn how to cook potatoes, however, you need to know how to shop for, store, and clean them.
When shopping for potatoes, look for ones that are heavy and firm with clean skin. It is okay for a potato to have a few indentations (called eyes), but avoid any with cracks, cuts, and dark or soft spots. Avoid potatoes that have a green tinge and any that have sprouted – this is usually an indication that they’ve been overexposed to light. When storing potatoes, you should keep them in a cool, dark area away from excessive heat, sun, or humidity.
Preparation methods for potatoes vary depending on the type of potato and the dish you’re making. Because they grow underground, most potatoes you buy will be dirty, so you’ll want to give them a quick scrub with a brush and some warm water. You can also soak them in a large pot of water and rinse them off before you start your recipe.
Wondering how to prepare the different types of potatoes? Here are a couple of easy gluten free potato recipes to try at home:
Creamy Mashed Potatoes
- 2 pounds russet potatoes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup whole milk
- Salt and pepper
- Fresh chopped chives
- Peel the potatoes and cut them into 1-inch chunks – rinse well until the water runs clear.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil then add the potatoes.
- Cook on a gentle boil for 15 minutes until the potatoes are fork-tender.
- Drain the potatoes and rinse with hot water, about 30 seconds.
- Place the potatoes back in the empty pot and mash with a potato masher.
- Add the butter and milk, fold it into the potatoes until they are thick and creamy.
- Season with salt and pepper then garnish with fresh chopped chives to serve.
Lemon-Dressed Fingerling Potatoes
- 2 pounds fingerling potatoes, assorted
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
- ½ teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
- Clean the fingerling potatoes and cut them in half.
- Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water – add about a tablespoon of salt.
- Bring the water to boil then reduce heat and simmer on medium-low until the potatoes are just fork-tender, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Drain the potatoes and set them aside to cool slightly while you prepare the dressing.
- Whisk together the olive oil, mustard, red wine vinegar, parsley, lemon juice, rosemary, and thyme in a small bowl then season with salt and pepper.
- Toss the warm potatoes with the dressing until coated then serve.
Oven-Baked Sweet Potato Wedges
- 3 medium sweet potatoes
- 1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- Dried herbs or seasonings
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
- Peel the sweet potatoes then cut them in half lengthwise.
- Cut the sweet potato halves into 1-inch wedges and toss with olive oil and garlic.
- Season to taste with dried herbs or your favorite seasoning blend then spread the wedges on the baking sheet.
- Roast for 30 minutes until tender and just browned on the edges.
Simple Scalloped Potatoes
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 3 tablespoons gluten-free flour
- Salt and pepper
- 1 ½ cups milk (or non-dairy milk)
- ½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 pounds red potatoes, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup onion, sliced thin
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan then stir in the flour, salt, and pepper.
- Whisk until smooth then drizzle in the milk while whisking.
- Bring to a boil and cook for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly, until thickened.
- Remove from heat then stir in the cheese until it melts.
- Grease an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray and spread half the potatoes in it.
- Top with half the onions and half the sauce then repeat the layers.
- Bake for 45 minutes covered with foil then uncover and bake an additional 10 to minutes until the top is lightly browned.
As you can see, potatoes are a diverse group of tubers that can be prepared in many different ways. Enjoy the classics like baked or mashed potatoes or go for something a little more interesting with a boiled fingerling potato salad or cheesy scalloped potatoes.