Mexican Potatoes. Why Are They So Lousy?

Frustration, frustration, frustration is my experience with Mexican potatoes.  Too bad in a country where you can usually count on excellent fruits and vegetables.

OK, I know that potatoes don’t have a long history in Mexico, becoming important only as a result of the Rockefeller program in the 1950s.  OK, I know that Mexican potatoes are white potatoes and thus I can’t expect them to bake well.

But why, oh why, do Mexican potatoes go just as gummy (chicloso) if you boil them or fry them?  I suspect it’s because they have been stored at too high or too low a temperature.

Some are OK.  You can often, but not always detect the decent potatoes because their skin feels silky whereas the bad ones, often not always, tend to feel rough.  As soon as you start peeling the difference is obvious.  The knife does not slide easily through the bad potatoes, the cut surface is slightly rough and slightly watery, sometimes there is brown mottling, and when you sniff it has a strong distinctive smell instead of the light, clean smell of the good ones.  If you cook them, they end up transparent yellowish or black, quite inedible.

And no, this is neither gringa taste nor gringa pickiness.  One friend complained that it didn’t matter whether you bought Mexican potatoes from a tianguis, a supermarket, or a permanent market.  Always the same.  Another said she had given up buying potatoes because throwing half away made it really expensive.  It was the same in Guanajuato as it is in Mexico City. I don’t remember this problem when we came to Mexico over a decade ago.  What has gone wrong?

Any potato experts out there?

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15 thoughts on “Mexican Potatoes. Why Are They So Lousy?

  1. Kay Curtis

    I’ve had better luck taste&texture wise with the little red potatoes — the ones about the size of a quail egg or a big glass shooter marble. They are not so attractive financially, though.

    Reply
  2. Steve Sando

    I’ve always felt that they were an unspectacular ingredient in Mexican food. You’d think they’d be better but if they didn’t really arrive until the 1950s, that would explain a lot.

    Reply
  3. Cooking in Mexico

    Rachel,

    This is only my guess, but I suspect that climate has a lot to do with it. This is why it is Idaho, and not Florida or California, that is famous for potatoes.

    When you do find good potatoes in Mexico, they make a very nice potato salad, but they aren’t as good for potato pancakes.

    Kathleen

    Reply
  4. julie favella

    Hi Rachel, totally understand what you’re saying. No wonder there’s such a large selection of frozen McCain french fries in the stores. Hmmm, I never stopped to look to see where those are from.

    Reply
  5. Naomi Duguid

    I agree that climate must be part of it, but then you’d think that they could be grown at higher altitude where there is some cold. In Thailand the potatoes are not as bad as the Mexican ones you describe. There they are grown up in the hills and mountains in the north, mostly, and they’re not a big item in any case.

    Warm temps after harvest must be a lot of the problem. And maybe the varieties that can grow in that climate are not wonderful? Do you know what varieties are grown?

    And then, to contradict myself, in India potatoes are very important in many places, especially in the north, and are mostly a winter vegetable, but still I’ve not had bad potatoes there…

    Reply
  6. C.M. Mayo

    Hi Rachel, I know zip about potatoes but a question: am I the only one noticing that a very large amount of fruit in Mexico City supermarkets is coming from the USA? (I’m talking about apples, peaches, apricots, pears etc all with small stickers saying “Product of USA”). I assume the stuff has been radiated or gassed– it all looks gorgeous and tastes bleah. I haven’t figured out the economics of this. Ballast for the trucks returning south, or what?

    Reply
  7. Mexico Cooks!

    Hi Rachel…I hear this beef about potatoes all the time, but only from foreign friends who live in Mexico. Mexico’s white potatoes definitely aren’t Idaho russets, but I haven’t found them to be quite as bad as those you mention.

    Per capita consumption of potatoes in Mexico is something just under 20 kilos per year, way less than the per capita 400+ kilo consumption of corn. Even so, about 65,000 tons of fresh potatoes are IMPORTED annually to Mexico from the USA and Canada. Do you think it’s possible that the potatoes you see in your markets are last year’s cold storage, with concomitant spoilage (or something close to spoilage)?

    I only buy standard white Mexican potatoes from vendors at my neighborhood tianguis, and truly have not had the problems you experience. I make a few potato dishes–mashed, home fries, soup–and have had never had complaints, even from Judy who, unlike dinner guests, is exempt from at-table politeness if I serve up something not-so-good.

    Re those little red potatoes: they’re DYED red! Cook them with the jackets on and bingo–the skins turn brown, the cooking water turns pink. I stopped bothering with them quite a while ago.

    I’ll poke around here and see what more I can find out about la papa mexicana. Meanwhile, Don Google seems to have a lot of info on potato production here.

    Cristina

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Hi Cristina, thanks for the comment. I am brewing up another post on potatoes. But no, I’m not expecting Mexican potatoes to be russets. And I find the same problems wherever I buy them. And no it’s not that I usually try to cook gringa recipes. And yes, my Mexican friends complain too. And it’s a relatively new problem in the last two or three years I would say. Could be imports.

      Reply
  8. jessica swartz amezcua

    My favorite potato in Mexico is the tiny little potato that they use in the dish called “bacalao.” Bacalao is dried, salted cod – they soak it a number of times over, and shred it (very laborious!). It is cooked in a fresh sauce made of tomatoes, onion, garlic, chiles gueros, capers, tomatoes, tiny potatoes (they have such a wonderful flavor but they take SO long to peel by hand!), almonds, and olive oil. (I’m probably forgetting an ingredient). I’ve had several versions of this but NONE of them compare to the way my mother-in-law makes it. She makes it every Xmas and New Years eve (along with many other amazing guisados like “pierna.”). But bacalao is my favorite! Sorry to veer off the potato theme! But I can’t help but think if bacalao when I think if of Mexican potatoes!

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Jessica, a great comment for the season. Bacalao is just flying out of Mexican stores right now. It’s a great dish. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply
  9. Niamh

    Coming from Ireland, where we get tasty, floury potatoes, I know exactly what you mean and wonder whether the fact that they are always spanking clean has something to do with it. Potatoes in Ireland are dirty when you buy them. We used to keep a sack of them out in the garage and they always came in lots of dirt.
    A friend of mine bought potatoes at an organic market out in the country (maybe near Tlaxcala?) and said they had more flavour.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Ah, I remember the sack of potatoes from my youth in England. By spring the ones in the bottom would be a bit soft and sprouting but all the same they were good. Floury is more difficult to get now in England.

      I would love to have more flavor in Mexican potatoes but before that I would like not to have to throw three quarters away because they were bad!

      Reply
  10. Kevin Noonan

    I read your article on Mexican white potatoes and why they are so lousy and I found that I completely disagree with most of what the article says. I find it to be completely inaccurate

    We spend quite a bit of time in Mexico and have been eating the potatoes there for years and have never had any issues with them at all. We actually find them to be quite a bit better than some of the potatoes we have eaten back home in Canada.

    We have prepared the potatoes in many different ways. We bake them, boil them, fry them and even roast them and the results are always the same, a very tastey addition to our meals.

    Perhaps whoever is providing you with the information for your article simply has no idea how to properly prepare them.

    Reply
    1. Rachel Laudan Post author

      Kevin, So pleased to hear you’ve had good experiences with potatoes in Mexico.

      We lived in Mexico for sixteen years and for much of the time I had no problem. Then a few years ago, I started having the problems I describe so I posted in hope of enlightenment. Perhaps they are better now.

      Reply

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