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Boiling potatoes in their skins

Boiling potatoes in their skins

Boiling potatoes has given rise to two sayings:

1) You should not peel potatoes before boiling.

2) You should not leave potatoes to cool in the cooking water.

The first suggests that potatoes should be always cooked in their skins, to prevent water penetrating and making the potatoes go soft and break up.

The second suggests that if potatoes cool in their cooking water, they will absorb some of it, which will give them an unpleasant flavour.

True or false? Let's try the experiment...

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Last modified on: July 25th 2017

Step by step recipe

Stage 1
Boiling potatoes in their skins : Photo of step #1 4 potatoes, of 2 different varieties (roseval and bintje here), will be used for a thorough test.
Stage 2
10 min.
Boiling potatoes in their skins : Photo of step #2 One of each kind is peeled.
Stage 3
5 min.
Boiling potatoes in their skins : Photo of step #3 All 4 are washed and dried, then weighed precisely and the weights noted.
Stage 4
10 min.
Boiling potatoes in their skins : Photo of step #4 The potatoes are all boiled in water.
Stage 5
5 min.
Boiling potatoes in their skins : Photo of step #5 When cooked, the potatoes are removed from the water, dried and weighed again.

Result: no change in weight.

Conclusion "You should not peel potatoes before boiling": false, peeled or not they behave the same.
Stage 6
Boiling potatoes in their skins : Photo of step #6 Next the potatoes are left to cool in their cooking water until cold, then dried and weighed again.

Result: the weight of the peeled potatoes has increased by 4 grammes each.

Conclusion "You should not leave potatoes to cool in the cooking water": it's true if they are peeled, otherwise they will absorb some of the water.

Conclusion

Both true and false: It's not necessary to leave the skins on potatoes for boiling, peeled or unpeeled they do not absorb water during cooking.
But you should not leave peeled potatoes to cool in the cooking water, because they will absorb water (about 7% in these tests). On the other hand, this "sponge" property of peeled potatoes might be an advantage when cooking them in something other than water, milk or cream for example, as they will absorb some of the good flavour.
And to drink?: We are going to boil both peeled and unpeeled potatoes together, weighed before and after boiling, to see if they have absorbed any of the cooking water.

Next we'll leave the potatoes to cool in the cooking water, then weigh them again, to see if they have absorbed any water or not.
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Your 3 comments or questions on this recipe

  • Great experiment jh. Something I never really considered before. Thanks for sharing...
    Posted by Louise october 29th 2009 at 16:26 (n° 1)
  • I think you failed to look at all the aspects of boiling them with the skins on, although i don't doubt your conclusions regarding the retention of water, i would disagree that cooking them either way gives you the same result. the skin of the potatoes, while shielding the inside from absorbing water, is also the source of a majority of a potato's nutrients, and furthermore has a flavor of its own. during the cooking process i would suspect that some of the nutrients and flavor is absorbed by the inside of the potato, hence differing outcomes.
    Posted by jacob november 8th 2009 at 00:18 (n° 2)
  • To jacob : I rather agree with you, but it's always the same way of reflexion we think or suppose or suspect that... But what's the truth?

    The next step of the experimentation would be probably to cook potatoes with and without skin, peel those with skins, cut them in pieces in differents plates with numbers, call few friends for a "blind taste potatoes party" (prepare some bottles of wine and paté too, otherwise I'm not sure they will come) and then try to determinate which ones are the bests.
    Posted by jh november 9th 2009 at 07:58 (n° 3)

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