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 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. Happily, these perennial tubers can be broadly generalised into several different types, which means that despite there being so many 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 or starchy they are.
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 Kartoffeln | Waxy 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). Waxy potatoes are flavoursome and very moreish roasted with their skins on, but the end product is very different to a classic (British) roastie made with a floury tuber.
In German supermarkets, festkochende potatoes are often 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
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, roast potatoes, rösti or Bratkartoffeln or for adding to stews. They’re also a good option for making dumplings and other dishes that involve turning potatoes into dough.
In German supermarkets, vorwiegend kochende potatoes are often 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 mash, a luxurious gratin Dauphinois or a perfect potato rösti.
Mehlig kochende Kartoffeln | Starchy potatoes
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, floury texture once cooked. They have lovely crispy outsides and fluffy insides when roasted, and they can make good mash, though you need to be very careful not to overwork them or it’ll end up gluey. Starchy potatoes 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 German supermarkets, bags of mehlig kochende potatoes often 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), some classic German potato dumplings, Tom Kerridge’s perfect roast potatoes, or my very favourite German potato soup.
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?
Well you learn something new everyday…. I am definitely having mashed potato tomorrow now! 😀
Hahaha! I only started paying attention to potato types when I moved to Germany – just because I wanted to know what the labels meant – and it CHANGED MY LIFE!!
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 love that we’re apparently all having a potato moment 🙂 And I’m really happy you find this useful!
Oh my god, you’ve opened up a whole new world of potatoes for me. I always felt like a dummy buying potatoes and just chose whatever looked the best. Now I can make informed decisions! 🙂
Brilliant! I’m so happy to have helped!! 😀
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 😀
They definitely make the best all-round potatoes. I never make roasties because I just can’t make them as well as my mum… so I basically eat them once a year now – at Christmas! 😉
<3 <3 Loved this so much.
How do I make that potato salad at the top?! I have some Charlotte potatoes that need using up.
😀 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 !
Oh wow two kinds – controversial 😉 You can’t go wrong with bacon bits though!
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!
😀 You’re very welcome! Maybe I should make a wallet-size potato printable 😉
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 😉
p.s. I just visited your blog and tried to leave a comment but I don’t think it went through? Everything just went blank!
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!
I love this detailed explanation. It will change my life, at least my grocery shopping life here in Germany. I love potatoes, but have no idea what to do with all the varieties. And I’ve been here over a year and haven’t had a satisfying bowl of mashed potatoes yet.
Speaking of—do you have a delicious, high-peaks, smooth, fluffy, and light mash recipe that includes the specific German potatoes you use that you could share?
Thank you so much for such a lovely comment, it makes me very happy to hear the post has been helpful. I’m very sorry you’ve not had any good mash experiences here yet though! I’m afraid I don’t have a specific mash recipe, I’ve always just made it the same way my mum does, and without measuring anything at all, but I do like using vorwiegend-festkochende potatoes for it – just whichever ones are available at the market (or these days, since I can’t get to the market, the supermarket!) – but my tip for really fluffy mash would be to warm the milk and melt the butter together before you add them. I hope that’s helpful!
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!!!
Hurrah! That makes me very happy to hear – thank you for letting me know! 🙂 Happy potato eating 😉
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!
Oh I’m so glad, that makes me very happy I helped 🙂 Just had a look at your website – it’s lovely!
What would be russet potatoes in Germany? I am European, but I use many American recipes, and can’t figure out what is the German equivalent. Thanks.
I’d say russet potatoes are mehligkochend, but I suppose the best thing to do would be to consider what you’re using them for and then find an equivalent potato based on the qualities required? Hope that sort of helps!
Dear Christie, Thank you for this enlightening article. It’s taught me tons of stuff I, as a German, did not know about potatoes. My favourite dish involving potatoes is Bratkartoffeln mit Käse, with scrumptious British roast potatoes being a strong runner-up. Both of these feature in my own blog, by the way – with a mention of yours: https://www.pommesbuddha.com/culture/spudgate-2/. As for potato shopping, we are lucky to have an excellent weekly market just round the corner from us. As we are (or were until we read your blog) totally clueless about potatoes, we usually have the Kartoffelhändler recommend a type of potato for a particular dish.
Oh thank you so much for your feedback, this is so lovely to hear! And thank you so much for mentioning me on your blog, absolutely loved your post – am going to have a good read of the rest of your site now 🙂 What kind of cheese do you use with your Bratkartoffeln? (And huge apologies for such a delayed response, I haven’t been receiving notifications for comments!)
That was a great read! Being German myself I always thought what you describe is obvious. Then I moved to the UK and didn’t know what potatos to choose (often ending up with lumpy mash ?). Now I have a Belgian husband who’s always looking out for yellow (of course Belgian) potatos as he thinks they make the best fries. So really, there’s a whole potato culture universe out there ?.
What a lovely comment – thank you! Yes there really is, and there’s so much more to it than just what I’ve described here, I find the cultivation of regional types and old varieties, for example, endlessly fascinating. I hope your husband has managed to find some yellow Belgian potatoes!
So absolutely no help in recommending potatoes for roasting.
Ha! What a hugely embarrassing oversight, I never even noticed and it’s only taken the best part of six years for someone else to point it out 😂 Thanks – I’ve updated the post 🙂