Picture: Michael Wilson/The West Australian

Where would we be without the humble potato?

Roasted, mashed, boiled, cut into chips - Australians love potatoes and rare would be the day when they hadn't infiltrated our diet in some way, shape or form.

So what is it about the spud that makes it so dear to our hearts?

"I think it's just a part of people's everyday diet," says Matthew Cocciolone, a manager at one of WA' s biggest potato growers and packers, Beta Spuds.

"The potato is one of the world's most popular vegetables, and in Australia it's one of the biggest vegetables produced, volume-wise.

"It's also such a versatile vegetable that can be cooked in so many ways.

"A lot of different varieties of potatoes have their own specific cooking purposes, because of dry content matter and gravity, for various cooking methods."

According to the Western Potatoes website, the WA potato industry produces about 60,000 tonnes of potatoes per year. That's a lot of spuds.

The main potato-growing districts are around Gingin, Perth, Busselton, Donnybrook, Myalup, Manjimup, Pemberton, Binningup and Albany.

"Beta Spuds handles around 25,000 tonnes a year," Mr Cocciolone says.

"We do export some to Asia but most of our capacity is to the market in WA."

Locally, we are about to enter the season for small potatoes. Also referred to as "gourmet" potatoes, these potatoes are packed full of flavour and nutrients, and are easy to cook with.

According to some local chefs, there's more to potatoes than just cooking them up for mash, roasts and wedges.

"We do lots of different things with our potatoes," says Manchester-born Scott O'Sullivan, owner-chef at Red Cabbage restaurant.

"One of the things we do is smoke them with hay and we've also smoked them with hickory woodchips.

"We smoke the milk rather than smoking directly on to the potatoes, and then we use the smoked milk to make mashed or pureed potatoes. You've got to use Royal Blue for that. They're great for pureed potato.

"We also scoop out potato balls, mix them with saffron butter and sous vide them, which keeps that beautiful yellow colour of the Royal Blues. I also really like Kipfler potatoes."

The West Australian

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