A russet potato with extra slices. Photo courtesy Idaho Potato Commission.
ABOUT RUSSET POTATOES
Russets are the most common type of potato grown in the U.S. They are the classic baking potato, floury/starchy potatoes that are lower in moisture (drier) and high in starch. The potato is oval and has a brown or russet-colored, net-like skin. The skin typically has just a few shallow eyes.
The term “Idaho potatoes” is often used interchangeably, but Idaho© Potatoes is a trademark of the Idaho Potato Commission, for russets that are grown in the state of Idaho.
Floury potatoes do not hold their shape well after cooking due to their low sugar content. They have a crumbly texture that tends to fall apart when boiled. That’s why russets are easier to mash. In addition to baked potatoes, they’re also used for deep-frying (for example, French fries and potato pancakes).
Russets are bred to be harvested in the warmer months; Idahos are harvested in the cooler months. Idahoan Luther Burbank developed the Russet Burbank potato in 1872, a more disease-resistant version of the Irish russet potato.
There have been additional russet developments since. In the U.S. alone, they include Alturas, BelRus, Centennial Russet, Century Russet, Frontier Russet, Goldrush, Hilite Russet, Krantz, Lemhi Russet, Nooksack, Norgold Russet, Norking Russet, Ranger Russet, Russet Burbank, Russet Norkotah and Russet Nugget. Each is bred for optimal growing in different soils, climates, rainfalls and seasons, and for resistance to pests.
Wild potatoes are indigenous to the Andes Mountains in Peru, where the Incas cultivated many species of potato. They were first domesticated more than 6,000 years ago.
The name is said to originate from the Spanish patata, a combination of batata (sweet potato) and papa, a word for potato from the Inca Quechua language.
The Spanish conquered Peru around 1530 and brought potatoes back home to Spain along with tomatoes, also native to Peru. News traveled fast (or what passed as “fast” in the centuries prior to the telegraph), and potatoes quickly reached the rest of Western Europe.
However, not everyone was enamored of the potato or the tomato. They were feared at first, accused of causing leprosy and being poisonous. They were classified as members of the Nightshade family, Solanaceae, because both contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids. However, the levels in domestic potatoes and tomatoes fall far short of being harmful to people.
Slowly, more countries realized the power of the potato. It could grow in any climate. It became a major food crop in Ireland, so much so that when the country was hit by a potato blight (Phytophthora infestans) three years in a row, more than a million people died of starvation and disease.
Potatoes were introduced to America in the 18th century. They were first planted in Idaho in 1836; today the state grows 25% of the nation’s potatoes.
See the other types of potatoes in our Potato Glossary.