White star, purple congo, Lady Christl, Dutch cream, Ruby Lou, red rascal. It sounds more like the starting gates at the local track than a list of potato varieties. Picking up a bag with the weekly shop, it's easy to think that one potato is much like another but it's not the case; with an array of varieties that offer the cook different characteristics, flavours and options.
The waxy likes of the kipfler are perfect for boiling and steaming, great for salads but not so for frying. Floury potatoes, like the cabaret variety, have the opposite qualities from the waxy; low in moisture and sugar, with a high starch content. Boiled, they tend to disintegrate but stand up to frying and roasting well. The versatile all-rounders like the royal blue or the Dutch cream are balanced between the waxy and floury ends of the spectrum and will see you right for most things.
Versatile and hardy, the potato is an ingredient that never lets you down. Stored or fresh from the farm or the vegie patch, there's always something that can be whipped up. Sausage and mash, shepherd's pie, Lancashire hotpot, a classic colcannon, leek and potato soup, fish and chips, the list of comfort classics goes on. We've all got our favourite dish, whether it's those comfort classics, a Spanish tortilla, simply chipped or the mighty roast potato.
Next time you pick up that bag of spuds or have the peeler in hand it's worth thinking about more than whether you've got a waxy, floury or versatile all-rounder to hand. Potatoes have a raft of health benefits and these can also depend on how they are prepared. Nutritionist Jan Purser of Food, Body and Health, says she recommends a potato a day on average.
"They are best served with a protein which helps to lower the GI," she says.
"Also potatoes cooked and then cooled and served in a salad have the benefit of a lower GI. A kipfler or new potato works well and is good for those maintaining glucose levels."
Here in WA, growers commercially farm about 34 varieties; some available all year round and others with a seasonal life. The South West is where much of the 50,000 tonnes of fresh potatoes produced each year comes from. Grown as far north as Lancelin, Dandaragan and Gingin, south through Myalup and Busselton to the area around Pemberton and Manjimup, there are approximately 80 growers licensed and regulated by the Potato Marketing Corporation.
"It's not some Stalinist-era regulator," jokes Dean Ryan, chairman of the Potato Growers Association and a grower in the Pemberton region.
"We're an industry that's sometimes misunderstood, where people think there's a lack of variety and over-regulation, but I've grown over 100 varieties in my time. What some people don't see is that the supermarkets have their own branding. It may be red delight or cream delight or purple delight, but those will be made up of a number of varieties of that characteristic. It may dumb things down a bit but there's only so much space on the shelves, I suppose."
As for the system of regulation, from Mr Ryan's point of view, this is a benefit to growers and consumers alike.
"The fact we are regulated means that an average price is possible, and we don't have this boom and bust that you see elsewhere," he says.
With new varieties in development all the time, it's a lengthy and in-depth process that can take more than four years to see a new variety become a commercial reality. The program, run by the Potato Marketing Corporation, has the goal of keeping WA growers ahead of the competition and providing consumers with great quality and choice.So from farm to your shopping basket there's a heap of development and strategising on quotas that many of us wouldn't even think of.