Potatoes are one of the most widely consumed crops in the world, known for their versatility, nutrition, and culinary importance across many cultures.
But with so many different types of potatoes available, from russets to reds, yellows, purples, fingerlings and more, it can be difficult to determine exactly how many potato varieties exist.
This article will provide a comprehensive statistical overview of the numerous potato types, examining key details such as:
- Total number of potato varieties
- Breakdown by category/type
- Leading commercial varieties
- New potato breeds
- Geographic distribution
- Production statistics
- Industry trends and outlook
By thoroughly analyzing the available data and research on potato varieties worldwide, this article aims to answer the question – just how many types of potatoes are there?
Total Number of Potato Varieties
According to potato genome and biodiversity researchers, there are over 4,000 different varieties of potatoes globally.
This includes both commercial varieties as well as wild potato relatives and experimental breeds.
The International Potato Center in Peru, which maintains the largest global potato gene bank, holds over 4,500 different potato samples from all over the world.
This suggests that the total number of existing potato varieties could potentially exceed 4,500. Regional potato gene banks in the United States, Europe, Asia and South America also hold thousands more unique potato varieties in their collections.
Many of these are heritage, indigenous or wild varieties not commonly grown commercially.
So while an exact count is difficult to pin down, experts estimate there are likely between 4,000 – 5,000 different potato varieties worldwide based on current data.
Breakdown of Potato Types
Potato varieties can be classified into different categories based on characteristics like appearance, texture, starch content and intended use.
Here is a breakdown of the major potato type categories and how many documented varieties exist within each:
- Russet potatoes – With over 2,500 varieties, russets make up the largest category of potatoes. Known for their brown, netted skin and floury texture, russets are ideal for baking, mashing and fries due to their high starch content. Popular commercial varieties include Burbank, Norkotah and Ranger Russet.
- Red potatoes – There are over 500 documented varieties of red potatoes, identifiable by their rosy red or pink skin and white flesh5. They have a waxy, firm texture well suited for roasting and salads. Some common commercial red varieties are Chieftain, Norland and Red La Soda.
- White potatoes – Encompassing over 300 varieties, white potatoes have thin, light brown skin and white flesh. They are moderately starchy and maintain their shape well when cooked, making them versatile for boiling, baking, mashing and more. Yukon Gold, Kennebec and Superior are popular white potato cultivars.
- Yellow potatoes – With around 230 varieties, yellow potatoes are similar to white potatoes in texture, but with pale yellow to golden skin and flesh. Their creamy, buttery flavor makes them ideal for mashing, roasting and gratins. Yellow Finn and Yukon Gold are two of the most widely available yellow potato varieties.
- Fingerling potatoes – Ranging from 100-150 varieties, fingerling potatoes are small, stubby and finger-shaped. They come in a range of skin and flesh colors, from purple to golden to red, with a firm, waxy texture suitable for roasting and pan frying. Russian Banana, French and Ruby Crescent are common fingerling types.
- Blue/Purple potatoes – There are around 150 documented varieties of blue or purple potatoes, known for their vibrant blue to lavender skin and flesh. They have a mildly sweet, nutty flavor profile. Popular purple potato varieties include Purple Majesty, Congo and All Blue.
- Petite potatoes – With over 100 varieties, petite potatoes are very small, bite-sized potatoes under 2 inches wide. They can be any color – red, yellow, purple or a mix – and have a creamy texture when cooked. Creamer and marble potatoes are two petite potato types.
This classification covers the major potato categories, but there are also many specialty, regional and wild potato types that add to the total variety count.
Most Widely Grown Commercial Varieties
While thousands of potato varieties exist, only a handful make up the bulk of commercial production worldwide.
According to data from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the top 10 potato varieties grown commercially are:
- Russet Burbank – 14% of global production
- Frital – 7%
- Spunta – 6%
- Ranger Russet – 5%
- Atlantic – 5%
- Shepody – 4%
- Urgenta – 3%
- Agata – 3%
- Innovator – 3%
- Marabel – 3%
Together, these 10 varieties account for over 50% of potatoes grown commercially around the world.
Russet Burbank, originally developed in the 1870s in the United States, is by far the most widely produced potato variety globally, representing 14% of total production. It is favored by processors for its large size, high yield and excellent baking qualities.
The other leading varieties on the list originate from breeding programs in the U.S., Canada and Europe. They represent reliably high-yielding, disease-resistant potatoes targeted towards commercial growing.
However, the potato market is always evolving with new varieties. Specialty potatoes like fingerlings and colored potatoes are gaining popularity and market share from consumers seeking more unique flavors and textures.
New and Experimental Potato Breeds
Potato breeding is a continual process, with new varieties being developed all the time in search of better yield, disease resistance, flavor, and adaptability to different growing conditions.
Over 100 new potato varieties have been introduced around the world in the past decade alone. Here are some of the key traits potato breeders are targeting with new experimental varieties:
- Climate resilience – Breeding potatoes that can better withstand heat, drought and other effects of climate change.
- Pest/disease resistance – Developing varieties resistant to common potato pests and diseases like late blight, which causes billions in crop losses annually.
- Improved nutrition – Biofortifying potatoes with increased vitamin, mineral and antioxidant levels to boost nutritional value.
- Unique colors/flavors – Breeding new potato varieties with vibrant colors and enhanced flavors to appeal to changing consumer preferences.
- Higher yield – Creating potatoes that produce higher yields per acre to boost global production efficiency.
Many of these new experimental breeds never make it into commercial production. But those that do, like the recently released varieties Masquerade, Clearwater Russet and Mountain Rose, add to the diversity of potato options available.
Geographic Distribution of Potato Diversity
The thousands of potato varieties in existence today are spread across the globe, with certain regions containing higher densities of potato biodiversity.
- Peru – As the birthplace of the domesticated potato and home to the International Potato Center gene bank, Peru has the greatest diversity of potatoes on Earth – over 4,300 varieties. Wild potato relatives are found throughout the Andean highlands.
- South America – After Peru, other Andean nations including Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia have the next highest concentration of potato diversity, with 1,000-3,000 varieties each. These include indigenous cultivars specially adapted to high altitude growing conditions.
- North America – The United States and Canada combined have over 700 potato varieties, including both commercially grown types as well as heirloom and specialty varieties.
- Europe – Europe contains around 500-600 potato varieties, found in gene banks across potato breeding hubs like the Netherlands, UK, Germany and Russia.
- Asia – China and India have the greatest potato diversity in Asia, with over 100 varieties each. Other nations like Japan, Philippines and Vietnam also have native potato varieties.
- Africa – Most of Africa’s 200-300 potato varieties are found in Ethiopia, Kenya, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Africa and Angola.
This geographic distribution highlights the important role of the Andean region and South America in maintaining global potato biodiversity. However, potato varieties have spread to suitable growing regions worldwide.
Global Potato Production Statistics
To further illustrate the scale and importance of the global potato market, here are some key production statistics:
- 388 million tons of potatoes were produced worldwide in 2020.
- The top 5 potato producing nations are China, India, Russia, Ukraine and United States.
- 18.6 million hectares of land were planted with potatoes globally.
- The average global potato yield in 2020 was 20.8 tons per hectare.
- 72% of potatoes are grown for human consumption while 28% are used for other purposes like seed, animal feed and industrial starch.
- Per capita potato consumption is highest in Europe (over 100 kg/person) and North America (50 kg/person).
- Global potato production and consumption has increased over 50% since 2000.
These figures demonstrate the massive scale of potato cultivation required to support over 1 billion tons of annual consumption, relying on a diverse range of potato varieties adapted to different regions and uses.
Potato Industry Trends and Outlook
Several key trends are shaping the future of the global potato industry:
- Premium and specialty potatoes – Fingerlings, colored potatoes and unique varieties command higher prices and are the fastest growing segment in developed markets like North America and Europe.
- Value-added processing – Products like frozen potatoes, chips, potato starch and potato flakes represent a major growth area, especially in Asia.
- Sustainability – Improving water and soil management, storage technologies and sustainable farming practices for potatoes is a priority across major producing nations.
- Potato-based foods – Alternatives to traditional wheat-based foods using potato flour, protein and fiber are emerging, aligned with consumer dietary shifts.
- Climate change – Rising temperatures, drought and disease pressure will require continued development of heat and disease-resistant potato varieties.
Despite facing challenges like climate change and crop disease, the potato market looks poised for continued growth and diversification in the coming decade. Both overall output and variety will expand to meet rising demand.
This exhaustive analysis of the available data demonstrates that there are between 4,000 – 5,000 documented potato varieties globally. While a handful of varieties like Russet Burbank dominate commercial production, there is an incredible amount of diversity in the potato world.
From Peru’s thousands of indigenous cultivars to the latest disease-resistant breeds; fingerlings to purple potatoes, the options are endless.
And potato breeders continue developing even more new varieties every year. So while the exact count is difficult to pin down, one thing is clear – there are a staggering number of potato types out there!
Jenny has always been passionate about cooking, and she uses her platform to share her joy of food with others. Her recipes are easy to follow, and she loves giving tips and tricks to help others create their own unique culinary creations.