Potatoes are sold in many guises, but not just in their natural state - crisps, frozen chips and ready-meals are just a few examples of big sellers in supermarkets. Ten years ago, around 80% of potatoes were sold were in their fresh state, but today that figure has been reduced to only 50%.
Home-made mashed, sautéed or roast potatoes have a superior flavour to anything ready-prepared, plus they're a sight more nutritious. All you need to get going is a potato peeler and a knife.
FLOURY OR WAXY
They're usually divided into two main groups: floury and waxy. Floury varieties include King Edward and Maris Piper, which are ideal for mashing and roasting, but tend to break up when boiled for salads.
Waxy potatoes - Jersey Royals, Charlotte potatoes and Pink Fir Apple, hold their shape well when cooked, and have a subtle, delicate taste - ideal for salads.
They are in-season at different times of the year, many maincrop floury varieties are at their best during winter, while new potatoes, such as Jersey Royals have a season that runs through from late spring to early summer.
If you can, buy unwashed new potatoes and give them a good rinse and scrub before cooking - they have a better flavour then pre-washed potatoes. Look for papery thin wisps of skin that can be easily removed by rubbing.
Keep potatoes in a dark, dry cool cupboard (and not in the fridge). If you can, store them in a paper bag, so they can 'breathe'. Plastic bags don't do them any favours and tend to make potatoes 'sweat' and age ahead of their time.
New potatoes have a shorter storage life than maincrop ones. It's best to use Jersey Royals within a few days, while regular potatoes, if stored well, will keep for around a three weeks.
IN THE KITCHEN
New potatoes only need a good wash and scrub before cooking, but maincrop ones aren't normally eaten with their skin on.
If you're boiling them, cook new potatoes in lightly salted boiling water (adding a sprig of mint complements their delicate flavour). Maincrop varieties are best placed in a pan of lightly salted cold water and brought to the boil.
Each variety has a distinctive flavour. To preserve maximum taste, try baking maincrop potatoes instead of boiling. Rub the skin with a dab of vegetable oil and sprinkle over salt before baking in a hot oven until tender when pierced with a sharp knife. The delicacy of new potatoes is best appreciated, when steamed.
Their popularity spreads across the world and has especially caught on in former colonies where white settlers have lived. There's really no end to the ways in which potatoes can be cooked - baked, chipped, mashed, fried, steamed, boiled, roasted....
Because of their bland flavour and creamy, starchy texture, they work well with dairy produce as well as with stronger-tasting ingredients - tomatoes, cheese, onions, garlic and spices. Here's a round-up of popular varieties
GOOD FOR MASHING, ROASTING AND MAKING CHIPS
King Edward: pinkish-red skin, creamy-coloured flesh, floury texture
Maris Piper: mild flavour, pale beige skin
Estima: creamy yellow flesh, oval in shape
BEST FOR BAKING
Desiree: red-skinned, they hold their shape particularly well after cooking
Romano: reddish skin, soft, dryish texture and delicate flavour
Wilja: grown mainly in Holland, this yellow-skinned variety is noted for a sweetish flavour and dense texture.
GREAT FOR BOILING, STEAMING AND SALADS
Charlotte: a popular choice, their distinctive, elongated oval shape, firm texture are delicate taste make them well-suited to simple cooking methods.
Jersey Royals: perhaps the most prized of spring and early summer potatoes, this variety is grown only on the island of Jersey. The early season potatoes are smaller and particularly tender, whereas the later season ones are larger
CARA Oval in shape with white skin and a waxy texture - good for boiling, but it's soft texture makes it a good choice for baking and mashing. They work particularly well when sliced and baked in dishes such as boulangere potatoes (layered potato slices baked with onions in stock).
CARLINGFORD NEW POTATOES White-skinned, best used in salads and for boiling
KERR'S PINK POTATOES A powdery texture makes them a good choice for mashing
MARFONA POTATOES Good for baking and boiling, they have a distinctive, slightly astringent taste
PENTLAND JAVELIN In-season when Jersey royals finish at the end of June, this variety has a short season, until the end of July. A firm texture and delicate flavour makes them an excellent choice for boiling.
PINK FIR Pink skin, firm waxy texture
RATTE An old French variety with a chestnut-like flavour
RED DUKE OF YORK Red skinned with a pale yellow flesh, they're best suited to boiling
SHETLAND BLACK VINTAGE POTATOES Noted for their deep purple skin and purple-ringed yellowish flesh, they have a light, floury texture and are best served boiled.