Baked, mashed, roasted, boiled or pan-fried, there’s a lot more that goes into what makes a potato taste the way it does than preparation and condiments.
“A lot of things affect the flavor of individual potato varieties,” said Greg Porter, professor of agronomy with the University of Maine. “There is climate, temperatures, moisture and day length all affect the physiology of the plant and the type of materials that end up in the tuber, but the most important factor in taste is variety.”
Those environmental factors influence the amount of sugars and starches the potato is able to store and help give each variety its own unique flavor and texture.
Porter would know. He’s spent decades carefully selecting and breeding different tuber traits and characteristics to develop new varieties such as the Caribou Russet, introduced to markets last March.
“People tend to like, and are loyal to, certain varieties,” Porter said. “They are used to them and used to the texture, taste and aroma of that variety, and it’s a combination of all those things that factor in to what makes one person like one potato over another.”
Within each variety are specific amounts of stored sugars and starches, according to Mary Camire, professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine, in addition to specific phenolic compounds.
“Potatoes that are low in moisture but with high sugar and starch contents like russets or Yukon golds are better baked, mashed, fried or roasted,” Camire said. “More waxy potatoes like round reds have a higher moisture content but less starch and will hold their shape better when cooked, so work better in salads or soups.”