3.6.1 Potato composition
The potato is a root vegetable, and root vegetables are usually very high in starch since they act as thestorage parts of the plant. About 80 % of a potato is starch, and therefore potato cells are very denselyconcentrated in starch granules. On cooking in water, these starch granules take up water and swell,causing the potato to increase in volume. As the starch granules gelatinise, the potato becomesdigestible. Raw potatoes are unique in being one of the few vegetables that cannot be eaten raw – theirhigh quantity of ungelatinised starch in their raw state can not be digested easily be the bodies digestiveenzyme amylase. Also, because of its high starch content, potatoes tend to become dry, tough and lessdigestible. This is because the network of starch molecules becomes stronger and tougher over time, andthis tends to squeeze water out of the network.Different potato varieties differ in particular in their overall starch contents, and this is why different potatovarieties are used for different food preparations. Potatoes with a low starch content are known as “waxy”,and include red and white potatoes. The potatoes do not absorb as much liquid during cooking, andtherefore the potato structure is less affected and the potato hold its shape much better. They aretherefore the preferred choice in gratins, boiled potatoes and potato salad, where the potato needs tokeep its shape.“Floury” potatoes, however, have a much higher starch content. The starch granules in their cellstherefore absorb much more water, and cell structure is much more likely to be disrupted, producing afluffy texture. These potatoes are therefore the best choice for mashing, baking or frying, where a softertexture is desired.
3.6.2 Cooking techniques
18.104.22.168 Mashing potatoes
On top of the damage caused to the cells on cooking, when the potato is mashed or riced, the cells arebroken open even more, releasing more starch, which acts to thicken the added liquid (usually milk)which makes the potatoes creamy and smooth. If waxy potatoes were used, much less starch would bereleased during mashing to thicken the liquid, to the same smooth texture can not be obtained.
When potatoes are fried, the oil temperatures reached are so high (more precisely, so much higher thanwater boiling temperature) that a significant amount of the potatoes water will evaporate. At the sametime, starch granules in potato cells swell in the internal water of the cells, forming a purée inside thecells.For the external part of the samples being fried, water completely evaporates, forming the crust. Finallyfried potato samples have a soft, tender, purée inside, and a crackling crust.As the chips are removed from the deep fat fryer, the water vapour will rapidly condense, and this willreduce the chips internal pressure to such an extent that the oil that is stuck to the surface of the oil issucked into the chip.When oil is added to boiled potatoes, it penetrates the potato tissue for very different reasons. Significantwater evaporation does not occur during boiling a potato, but when a potato is left to cool in the presenceof oil, the outer layers of the potato will cool and contract much more quickly than the potatoes centre, socracks will form in the outside of the potato. Oil can enter the potato tissue by these cracks, and this alsoexplains why potatoes to which oil is added when they are still hot will absorb more oil than if the oil isadded once they are cold, and the cracks have closed.
When frying or roasting potatoes it is often recommended that they are cooked in water first. This allowsthem to form a superficial gelified layer and during subsequent frying this gel layer prevents the starchgranules from absorbing too much oil.If they are not, the starch will not gelatinize and much more oil can enter. The oil will be sucked in due tothe reduced internal pressure in the fried potato as a result of the majority of the water evaporating.