What is an Idaho Potato?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Technically speaking, an Idaho potato is any potato grown in the American state of Idaho, but one variety, the Russet Burbank, has come to be closely associated with the state. When most consumers think of these potatoes, they typically visualize the Russet Burbank, a classic starchy potato that has a wide range of uses. Idaho has come to be linked with potato production in the United States, and it produces one of the largest yearly crops of potatoes in the country, after Washington State.

Russet potatoes.
Russet potatoes.

The weather and elevation in Idaho make conditions perfect for growing potatoes. Potatoes are naturally high altitude plants, since they were developed in the mountain ranges of South America. In Idaho, a long, mild growing season in the summer pairs with rich, light soil and high elevations to create an ideal potato growing environment. This was realized in the early 1900s, when the Russet Burbank was first brought to the area and the state became a major potato producing powerhouse.

Potato farm.
Potato farm.

In fact, over 30 varieties of potato are grown in the state of Idaho, but the Russet Burbank is by far the most produced potato crop in the state. Russet Burbanks have an elongated shape with rough, netted skin and few eyes. Occasionally, the potatoes will mutate back to a thinner smooth skinned version, but both have white, starchy flesh. This potato made the state famous in the 20th century, when Idaho came to be known as a major potato producer.

Woman harvesting potatoes.
Woman harvesting potatoes.

The Russet Burbank is named for Luther Burbank, a famous scientist and gardener who developed the strain, apparently by accident, in Lunenburg, Massachusetts. The potato is derived from a potato cultivar known as Early Rose. Initially, Burbank had trouble marketing his potato, but by 1875, he managed to sell some seed potatoes and his farm, at which point he moved to Northern California. His experimental gardens are on tour to the public in Santa Rosa, California, and his potato cultivar dominates the American potato crop.

Potato plant.
Potato plant.

The Idaho potato is prized because although it has a long growing time, the mature tubers are heavy, solid, and often quite flavorful. When fried, the potatoes caramelize, creating a rich, dark color and a crispy flavor for foods like potato chips and French fries. The Russet Burbank also makes an excellent baking potato. When selecting one in a market, shoppers should look for firm specimens without soft spots, mold, or areas of extreme discoloration. Potatoes should be stored in a cool dry place until use, and washed carefully to remove dirt.

Dirt cleared away to show potatoes growing below ground.
Dirt cleared away to show potatoes growing below ground.
French fries are often made from Idaho potatoes.
French fries are often made from Idaho potatoes.
Potato chips made with Idaho potatoes.
Potato chips made with Idaho potatoes.
Idaho's climate and terrain are considered ideal for potato growing.
Idaho's climate and terrain are considered ideal for potato growing.
Idaho is the leading grower of potatoes in the U.S.
Idaho is the leading grower of potatoes in the U.S.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon994215

@anon90245: I have the same problem where I live in Texas. HEB won't carry them.

anon342257

I would like to know why there are black spots in the Idaho potato. Some have a lot of black spots.

sunshined
I tried to grow potatoes one year, but didn't have very good luck. Now I find it a lot easier to just buy them at the store. They are inexpensive and go well with a a lot of meals.

I like to slice up potatoes, put a little bit of butter and cheese on top, season them, wrap them in foil and put them on the grill. They don't usually take as long to cook as the meat, but they taste great on the grill.

andee

@golf07 -- Have you ever tried storing them in a potato bin? That is where I have always stored my potatoes and I seem to have good luck doing it this way. I just keep the bin in my pantry so it isn't any cooler there than any other room of the house.

If I pull a potato out of the bin that has soft spots on it, or looks wrinkly, I just throw it away and use another one.

golf07

Where is the best place to store potatoes? I usually buy a ten pound bag of them and sometimes they go bad before we eat all of them. I leave them in the mesh bag I bought them in, and store them at the bottom of a cupboard. It is dry where they are stored, but maybe it isn't cool enough.

julies

@anon21526 -- Wow, I can't imagine a potato that weighs over a pound! I wonder how long it would take to bake a potato that big.

My favorite potatoes are the Russet. I think they have the best flavor and texture of any other potatoes I have tried. My favorite way to eat them is mashed with some butter, salt and pepper on them.

If I don't want to go to all that trouble, I will bake them in the oven. I have microwaved them before, but think they taste a whole lot better when they are baked for 45 minutes to an hour.

anon147367

Actually, Pennsylvania produces the most now.

anon90245

Why is it that for the past months I have been unable to find just plain Idaho potatoes all the time? much of the time it will have a white tag that says Burbank and frankly. they are no good. They are so hard they will not get thoroughly done and are hard to cut up to cook.

Laura N., Tennessee

anon60935

For the past year or so I have noticed that Idaho potatoes, are getting sweeter, and I personally don't like it. How do I identify traditional Idaho potatoes? M. Koubel

alsports2000

When is the potato season in Idaho? My daughter moved there from Alaska and her parents live in Texas and we want her to mail some potatoes from there. Thanks. AL.

anon29129

Are all Idaho potatoes russet potatoes? If it says "grown in Idaho," then it could be that it is *not* a russet potato?

anon21526

Good information on Idaho Potatoes. There is a site where you can buy Idaho Potatoes that weigh over a pound!

Snorthorse

Actually Idaho produces more potatoes than Washington. Idaho accounts for 30% of all potatoes produced in the USA or about 11.8 billion pounds, Washington is around 9.5 billion pounds a year.

Don Odiorne, Idaho Potato Commission

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