How to pick a potato: a guide to buying potatoes in Germany

German potato salad
My husband's German potato salad

A little while ago, I was asked for a recommendation for a good roasting potato; and then again for advice on what sort of spud to use for soups and mash.  These may seem like daft questions to those of you in the “just buy a bag of potatoes and use them for everything” camp, but if you like your roasties fluffy and light and your mash whipped into peaks, picking the right potato is actually a very important task to complete.

There are are hundreds of different potato varieties in Germany, each offering their own individual combination of texture, flavour and cooking characteristics, so choosing the right one for the job can really make all the difference to your meal.  Luckily, potatoes can be broadly generalised into types, which means that despite there being so many different varieties to choose from, if you know what you want them for, you’ve got a good chance of ending up with the right sort.  Unfortunately, the way potatoes are classified differs around the globe: in the US, for example, it seems to be done by colour – russet, white, yellow, and so on – and in the UK they’re categorised by how waxy they are.

Brown paper bag of potatoes

In Germany, potatoes are classified in two ways.  Firstly, they can be grouped by when they’re harvested: very early, early, medium-early, medium-late or late (specific, I know, but remember where we are).  Potatoes are available all year round, but those planted in winter and harvested early, in spring and early summer, are known as early potatoes (new potatoes) and can only be bought from around April to July.  Early potatoes have very thin skins and hold their shape well when cooked and cut, which makes them perfect for boiling or making salads.

Potatoes in Germany are also classified in terms of their cooking characteristics; whether they’re floury and dry or waxy and firm or somewhere in between.  Floury spuds disintegrate when boiled but are the perfect for baking; waxy potatoes make great gratins but a mediocre mash.   So, these characteristics are the most important thing to consider when buying potatoes, and happily, this is how they’re grouped in Germany, very broadly, into the three categories below.  From farm shop to supermarket they’re even labeled as such, so despite there being countless different sorts of potatoes in each category, the good news is that if you stick within the right group, you can’t go too far wrong.

Festkochende potatoes | Waxy potatoes

Annabelle potatoes

Festkochende potatoes have a smooth, waxy, dense flesh that remains firm when they’re cooked.  They have a high moisture content and a very thin skin that, though you can scratch it off easily with a fingernail, doesn’t tend to come off in the pan.  They’re waxy, not starchy, so they hold their shape well and for this reason are good for frying, making gratins and stews or boiling for salads (which is why they’re also known here as salad potatoes, or Salatkartoffeln).

In the supermarket, festkochende potatoes are labeled in green.  Well-known varieties include: Annabelle (pictured above), Agata, Charlotte, Kipfler, Marabel, Linda, Princess and Pink Fir Apple.

What to do with your festkochende potatoes?  How about making new potatoes sautéed with herbs, a classic English potato salad or my favourite ever royal potato salad with pesto and quails’ eggs.

Vorwiegend festkochende Kartoffeln | Primarily waxy potatoes

Bag of German potatoes

Vorwiegend festkochende potatoes are the middle ground, being both reasonably firm and a little starchy without being dry.  They’re therefore a good all-purpose potato and a safe pick if you want a big bag of potatoes to use throughout the week for different dishes.  They won’t fall apart when you cook them or turn into a gloopy mess when mashed, so they’re perfect for serving puréed or riced or boiled and peeled as well as for making French fries, rösti or Bratkartoffeln or for adding to stews.

In supermarkets, vorwiegend kochende potatoes are labeled in red.  Well-known varieties include: Bolero, Christa, Désirée, Finka, Gala, Hela, Maja and Saskia.

Need a little vorwiegend festkochende inspiration?  How about a wholegrain mustard masha luxurious gratin Dauphinois or a perfect potato rösti.

Mehlig kochende Kartoffeln | Starchy potatoes

Flatlay of a bowl of German potato soup garnished with sliced Wiener sausage and parsley
Kartoffelsuppe | German potato soup

Mehlig kochende potatoes are those that contain the most starch: they fall apart easily when boiled, slip easily from their skins and have a dry, fluffy, floury texture once cooked.  They can make good mash, though you need to be very careful not to overwork them or it’ll end up gluey; and are also good for dishes that involves using potatoes as a dough, such as gnocchi, dumplings or croquettes.  Mehlig kochende potatoes are good at absorbing liquids, so choose them for serving with sauces, and as long as you don’t let them overcook, they’re also good for adding to soups and curries.  Most importantly of all, mehlig kochende potatoes make the perfect baking potato: they’re fluffy and light and absorb butter beautifully.

In supermarkets, bags of mehlig kochende potatoes have a blue label.  The best-known varieties in Germany include: Adretta, Aula, Freya, Gunda (pictured top), Karat, Libana, Lipsi, Melina and Naturella.

Stuck for what to do with a bag of mehlig kochend potatoes?  Why not try a potato and cauliflower curry, green gnocchi (with sage and peas) or some classic German potato dumplings.

So there we have it: a potato for every occasion.  What’s your favourite potato dish?  And what camp are you in: do you purchase particular potatoes on purpose or just use whatever you can get your hands on? 

24 Comments

  • This is great, and the timing is perfect. Was just having a “why are Germans so weird about their potatoes” moment at the produce place today when I had to pick up potatoes (the fellow usually is in charge) and didn’t know which ones to get.

  • I buy vorwigened festkochend because I make lots of dishes with potatoes, and I don’t want to buy two bags if I’m having mash one day and roasties the next. Jan loves my roasties so I must be doing something right 😀

    • 😀 Thank you!! I’m very glad you enjoyed it 🙂

      The potato salad at the top is one of B’s German ones, which don’t usually follow any particular rules. It looks like there was radishes in this one, and cornichons, and chopped, fried red onion… and spring onions. And I’m not ruling out the chance there were bits of bacon in there, either. Basically, you can chuck in whatever you want. He dresses it all in oil, white wine vinegar and some of the liquid from the cornichon jar (a trick he learned from his Oma), and the most important thing to remember about doing that is to put the potatoes into the vinegar whilst they’re still warm, so that they soak up all the flavour, and add the rest of the ingredients a bit later. And ah, that’s why when you boil the potatoes you do it in their skins and then peel and slice them afterwards, so that they don’t soak up the cooking water and can soak up the other liquids after instead.

      Shit. I should really make that a bit more coherent and post it as a recipe 😉

    • hmmm … prim. we have 2 kind of potato salad ! sour and creamy ( mayonnaise ) ! sour has 2 sub`s with an without bacon bits ! especially the sour must follow strict recipe ! or it will fail fully !

  • I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stood in the vegetable aisle staring at the potatoes, wondering which ones to buy. Now I won’t have to! Thanks for the advice and the massive time-saver!

  • I also only learned about potatoes after moving to Germany. In the U.S. I just used “Idaho potatoes” and rarely did anything except baked potatoes. Here we do Bratkartoffeln, roast potatoes, Rösti, homemade fries, smashed potatoes, mashed potatoes, boiled potatoes, casseroles, au gratin… We have some kind of potatoes at least 4 times a week and always have a bag of fest kochend and a bag of mehlig kochend in the pantry. I never thought to try the vorwiegend festkochend for general purposes, but maybe I will.
    Thanks for the tips!

    • Wow, that’s a lot of potato eating – and I’m very impressed by your potato dish range! We really don’t eat potatoes all that often, certainly not as much as my husband would like, and we usually just have them mashed or boiled. I love love love mash 🙂 I suppose I just didn’t eat them very much growing up – we were a rice family, really – so although I like potatoes, they’ve never been as central to my diet as my poor, potato-starved husband 😉

        • Darn! I don’t know what happened – I don’t think I saw a comment from you. But I want to know what you said! 🙂

          Believe it or not, I actually never made mashed potatoes until I moved to Germany. I didn’t like them growing up even at restaurants because I thought they were always dry. Now we make them ourselves with tons of cream and butter – never dry! My favorite, though, is the Rösti my husband makes. Damn, they’re good!

          • I do like Rösti but ohhh, how I love mashed potatoes 😀 I use cream instead of milk, but butter? Yep, I’m not ungenerous with that 😉

            And I just commenting tried again and it did exactly the same thing 🙁 It was on your post about getting along with Germans. Ah well!

  • So happy to find this fantastic article! I’ve been in Germany for over a year and haven’t been able to figure out the potatoes!!!

  • This helped sooo much! Until I came to Germany I had no idea about potato varieties other than the basic colors! No wonder many dishes turned into mush or just failed to deliver! I will look forward to my next trip to the supermarket to pay attention to all the labels!

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