Potatoes are one of the most commonly eaten vegetables in the U.S. They are easy to prepare and widely available. Cooks prepare potatoes by steaming, boiling or baking. When potatoes bake, the water inside the potato turns to steam and creates pressure. When enough pressure collects, the steam erupts through the skin of the potato causing an explosion inside the oven.
Many varieties of potatoes are grown for specific purposes. White potatoes are good for table use, although the majority of white potato growers contract with potato chip manufacturers. Red potatoes are a good cooking potato, since this potato holds its shape better in water. Russet potatoes are the most common type of potato used for baking because the ratio of starch to water is higher than in red potatoes.
Potatoes need to be cleaned before cooking. Some cooks peel the potatoes when frying or boiling them, while others like the earthy taste of the skins. Any green skin on the potatoes needs to be removed since it contains a toxic alkaloid. Potatoes exposed to sunlight or fluorescent light develop the green skins. Potato sprouts need to be removed as well, since these are also toxic.
Baby red potatoes and russet potatoes are the best kind to cook in the oven. Some people oil the outside of scrubbed potatoes to create a crisp crust toward the end of the baking process, while others wrap the potatoes in foil to create a softer skin and ease serving the potatoes. Baby red potatoes are baked in pans or casseroles, often with herbs like rosemary and garlic and olive oil to carry the flavors. Both russets and red potatoes need to be poked before baking to reduce the risk of exploding in the oven. Potato flesh smokes and burns on oven surfaces and the starches in the flesh help it adhere tightly to oven surfaces.
Baked and steamed potatoes provide the highest amount of nutrition because they are not cooked in water. When vegetables cook in water, the water-soluble vitamins leach into the water, which is typically thrown out. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Nutritional Agricultural Library, a baked potato contains 20 mg of calcium and 610 mg of potassium, while an equivalent boiled potato has 12.4 mg of calcium and 548 mg of potassium.
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