Potato flour is a powder made from ground potatoes that is commonly used in baking. Some cooks use it as a thickener, and it can also add flavor and texture to foods like cakes, breads, and cookies. It is popular as a gluten-free alternative to regular wheat-based flour, and Jewish cooks sometimes also use it when preparing foods according to Passover dietary restrictions, which prohibit the use of many grains.
How It’s Made
In most cases, potatoes are the only ingredient in this sort of flour, though some manufacturers add preservatives to keep it fresh and to extend its shelf life. Whole potatoes are first cooked, usually in large industrial ovens, then dehydrated. From here, manufacturers grind them into a fine powder for an end result that resembles wheat flour in texture and feel, though it usually reacts very differently in recipes.
Differences From Potato Starch Flour
Many people confuse potato flour with the similar-sounding potato starch flour. Starch flour is different in that it is made only from the tuber’s starchy proteins. This makes it behave more like typical wheat products, but many cooks describe its taste as much denser. Flour made from whole cooked potatoes can make baked goods seem lighter and moister, while starch flours often add bulk.
Despite these differences, some manufacturers incorrectly use the names interchangeably. Cooks who are looking for one or the other usually have to read the packaging information carefully to figure out what they’re really getting. Potato flours usually list whole potatoes as the primary ingredient; starch products, on the other hand, more often list something like “potato extract” or “vegetable starch.”
Use as a Thickener
One of the most common uses for this flour is as a thickener, particularly in liquid-based foods like soups, stews, and gravies. The dehydrated particles absorb moisture, which increases the volume and often improves the texture of the finished dish. Cooks need to be careful that they don’t let the liquid boil, though. This causes the potato flour to foam up, which can change the taste and alter the overall consistency of the food.
As a Gluten-Free Baking Alternative
This potato product is perhaps most commonly used by cooks looking to avoid gluten, a protein most common in wheat and related grains. Most healthy people can digest it without problem, though there are a number of diseases, allergies, and sensitivities that mean gluten has to be avoided. Baking without wheat flour is often challenging because the gluten is what gives the final product its light, chewy texture. Potato flour can be a useful substitute, but it’s rarely as simple as just swapping one for the other.
Though potato and wheat flours often look really similar, they aren’t the same at all when it comes to composition. Potatoes are a lot heavier than wheat for one thing, and they have a different taste; they also absorb moisture differently, which can affect how much liquid cooks need to add to recipes. Most bakers find it easiest to combine potato-based flours with other gluten-free alternatives, like rice flour, in order to get something that not only looks like wheat flour, but also acts like it. Rice flour, in particular, behaves much more like wheat flour than does potato.
Role in Traditional Jewish Cooking
Potato-based flour is an important part of traditional Passover cooking, as religious teachings prohibit eating most grain-based foods during this period. It is frequently used to make dumplings and certain baked desserts, and it can also be added to broths and stews.
Popularity as a Batter
A number of cooks use the flour as a batter or coating for meats and fish, particularly in deep frying. Potato particles tend to crisp up faster than ordinary wheat flour would, and they give a unique flavor to the finished product.
General Cooking Notes
Many creative bakers like to keep this flour on hand to add a little something “extra” to ordinary recipes. Potato bread is made with a combination of potato and wheat flours, for instance, and it has a distinctive sweet taste and typically also a very fluffy texture. Adding a bit of this flour to cookies and cakes can also help improve their overall texture, giving them more moisture and usually also a natural sweetness. These sorts of foods are neither gluten-free nor kosher for Passover, but they are often prized as being delicious.
Nutrition and Health
Many retailers sell potato flour as a health food, most likely because it derives directly from the whole potato and is usually much more nutritious than processed wheat flour. Health experts are often quick to point out that potatoes are carbohydrates, however. The body is usually able to break them down into sugar relatively quickly, making them good for quick bursts of energy but not as useful when it comes to sustained nutrition.
Just the same, the flour does have many redeeming qualities. It is high in many vitamins, for instance, including vitamin C and vitamin B6; it is also a good source of potassium, calcium, and dietary fiber, and contains some protein, as well.
Potato flour should be stored in a cool, dry place away from light. Most cooks like to use it within about six months of opening, but it doesn’t really spoil; it can be used almost indefinitely, but its flavor and texture do tend to fade away with time. It freezes well, but most experts recommend storing it in airtight containers to prevent moisture from building up. If potato flour gets wet, even just from moisture in the air, it can quickly turn into an oozing mess.