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Which Potatoes Do You Buy and Use?

Potatoes are a staple crop that is grown in many areas of the world. Thousands of tons of potatoes are sold in stores every year. Yet many people are a bit confused when it comes to the grading of potatoes.

Quite often, potatoes at a store are labeled either Number 1 or Number 2 potatoes. Contrary to popular thought, this has nothing to do with size. The difference between number 1 and number 2 potatoes is one of quality. Number 1 potatoes should be relatively free of blemishes, bad spots, and uneven growth. They are higher quality potatoes than number twos.

Potatoes are also graded by size, but the average consumer rarely sees any indication of this sort of grading in the store. Size-grading is done in one of two ways. Probably the more accurate way is in counts. These go from 40-count to 120-count potatoes, in increments of 10. In 40-count potatoes, there are 38 to 42 potatoes per carton. In 120-count potatoes, there are 114 to 126 potatoes per carton. Obviously, this means that the lower the count number, the larger the potatoes are.

The other size grading is simpler, but not as accurate. That is grade A, grade B, grade C, premium, and jumbo. Again, this isn’t often indicated when you buy potatoes in a store, but the difference is in the diameter of the potatoes.

Grade C potatoes are less than 1.5 inches in diameter. They might be sold as “new potatoes”. Grade B potatoes are 1.5 to 2.25 inches in diameter. Grade A potatoes are more than 2.5 inches in diameter. Premium potatoes are 2.5 to 3.5 inches in diameter. Jumbo potatoes are over 3.5 inches in diameter. Potatoes sold in stores as “bakers” are normally either premium or jumbo potatoes.

At one time, I worked on a potato bulker. A potato bulker is a machine that ‘scoops’ up potatoes and runs them by a conveyer belt past workers who remove dirt clods, bad potatoes, those that are too big, or those that are misshapen. Typically, there are 4-6 people working on the bulker and this was what I did. 

Normally, the ‘bad’ potatoes are literally thrown away…tossed off the bulker. During that work, one of the potatoes that went past me was a huge one. Rather than throw it away, I put it down at my feet so I could later take it home. (The potato farmer gave potatoes to his workers, so this wasn’t theft.) When I got home, I weighed that one potato and it tipped the scale at over 6 pounds. It was over a foot in diameter.

In this case, the potato would have been considered to be a “reject”. It wouldn’t have passed either a quality or size grade. It tasted great, though.

The point is that so many people choose number ones or number twos, thinking that they are selecting the size of the potatoes. They are actually selecting the quality of the potatoes.

  • Question /

    Have you bought no. 1 or no. 2 potatoes thinking you were selecting the size of the potato?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I don’t pay attention to whether they are number 1 or number 2 potatoes
    • I don’t buy/eat potatoes
  • Question /

    Do you enjoy eating potatoes?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I don’t like potatoes
    • I’ve never eaten potatoes

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Written by Rex Trulove

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23 Comments

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  1. I was raised on Idaho potatoes so it was tough in my early days in Latvia. Then I learned to find potatoes I really enjoyed. There the potatoes bought were identified as those good for boiling and those good for frying. Now that I am back in the states I look for Idaho again. All I know about size is that I like medium-sized potatoes.

    • The usual distinction between boiling and frying potatoes in the US has to do with the thickness of the skin. Thin-skinned potatoes tend to be better for boiling, while thick-skinned potatoes, like russets, are usually better for frying and baking. Most Idaho potatoes are russets.

    • Many countries don’t use a grading system at all for potatoes. They often sell spuds as “run potatoes” or “field run”. People get the same mixture in size and quality as they are when they come out of the ground. In the US, the grading system isn’t actually for the consumer, but rather the potato farmer. An enormous amount of potatoes are grown in the US every year, so it has to do with the amount of money that the potato farmers make.

      The last I checked, though, China leads the world in potato production. That can be a little ironic, considering the amount of rice that is consumed in China.

    • Sweet potato is an example of an unfortunate misnaming. They are totally unrelated to potatoes and are only given the ‘potato’ part of the name because they grow in the ground and are somewhat similar in appearance to a potato.

    • Sometime in the future, I want to grow some finger potatoes, just because they are interesting. They grow long, but they aren’t very thick. Often, they are no bigger in diameter than a finger but can be 5-6 inches long.

  2. Hi, I am a potato newbie. I’ve been eating them for more than 50 years and I only called them bakers (longer than 3 inches) regular (less than 3 to 1.5 inches) and new (less than 1.6.

    Now my entire world is shattered.

    I have learned something new today. But i have to rethink my entire potatoes eating career.

    • It probably won’t make a lot of difference in the long run. Stores still usually don’t sell them by size grade, except for bakers. Bakers are usually sold separate and loose, often for much more money per pound.

      Other countries also don’t necessarily use the US grading system. Many simply sell “run potatoes”, meaning that they are the same as what comes out of the ground; some big, some small, some high quality, some low quality, all in the same bin or batch.

      The grading system in the US is primarily tied to money. Number ones are considered more valuable than number twos, so they are often sold at a higher price. The same is true of bakers as compared to new potatoes. In other words, the potato grading system is mostly for the potato farmer rather than the consumer.

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