Have you ever tried to make potato chips? If so, was it a success or a bit of a failure? For those who’ve tried and failed, the usual complaint is that the chips turned brown. Well, we have an easy fix for that — you need to make sure you’re using the right potato, a round white or Russet potato.
Potatoes are one of America’s most popular vegetables, but many people aren’t aware that each variety — Russet, golden, white, red, purple, fingerlings — is different, with varying starch and water content. And those differences determine which potatoes are best fried, baked, boiled, in salads or soups and so on and so on. (This Wisconsin Potato Varieties Use Chart is a big help.) The best chipping potato is the round white or Russet potato.
Wisconsin produces some of the highest quality chipping potatoes in the nation. It all begins with the best seed potatoes, and Wisconsin — home to the oldest seed certification program in the country — has the highest quality seed potatoes. We’ve also been growing chipping potatoes for generations on family farms across the state. Those same farmers work closely with researchers from the University of Wisconsin – Madison to develop new potato varieties that require less inputs, can be grown in an environmentally-friendly manner and produce greater yields.
Wisconsin is also home to the Hancock Storage Facility where growers and researchers collaborate to determine best practices for storing potatoes after they’ve been harvested. See, once you harvest a potato it’s still living and breathing — it’s a living organism. So think of storage as “sleep.” In order to ensure the potato remains in a dormant stage, potatoes are stored at 42º F at about 97% humidity. Chipping potatoes are stored at 50º F. These conditions lower the respiration of the potato — so it doesn’t “breathe” as much — and ensures the potatoes don’t dehydrate. If these conditions are maintained, they can be stored up to 10 months and maintain the highest quality. Once a potato is taken out of storage and warmed up, the clock is ticking. The potatoes have to be washed, then sized and then delivered.
This brings us back to potato chips. If you’ve made chips and they’ve turned brown it’s because you’ve used a potato with too many sugars. When heated up, those sugars convert to starches and turn brown. Round white or Russet potatoes are best for chipping because of their lower sugar content. To learn more about how chipping potatoes are grown, stored and made, watch these videos:
If you’d like to learn more about the history of the potato chip, read “George Crum and the Saratoga Chip,” by Gaylia Taylor. This is a great picture book the entire family can enjoy as it brings to life that day in 1853 when Cornelius Vanderbilt sent back his potatoes because they were “too thick” and the chef (George Crum) replied with a plate of ultra-thin fried and salted “crunch chip” potatoes.
Care to make potato chips at home? Try one of the recipes below.