Why are my Potatoes Sweet? Find out why!

We all love our potatoes, but sometimes we wonder, why are my potatoes sweet? Of course, they are versatile and great for mashing, baking, and frying. But when they turn sweet, it can throw off your culinary plans.

Potatoes may taste sweet when stored in cold temperatures, belong to a naturally sweet variety, or have aged and converted their starches into sugars. They can also turn sweet if cooked in a way that brings out their natural sugars, such as roasting or caramelizing. So paying attention to these elements is crucial to understanding if they are likely to be sweet.

Once you have determined the cause of the sweetness, you also need a plan to prevent or remove it if it’s causing you problems. Here are the most common reasons that can make your potatoes taste excessively sweet.

What Makes Potatoes Sweet?

A few factors can increase sweetness in potatoes, and even though they aren’t well known, it’s essential for you to understand them if you want to avoid unusually sweet potatoes in your recipes.

1. Temperature

Ever left your potatoes in a chilly spot and noticed they taste a bit sweeter? That’s no accident! When potatoes are stored in cold conditions (below 41°F or 5 °C) for a long time, their starch converts into sugar (research).

This makes the potato sweeter and can affect its texture and appearance to the point of almost being discolored.

This process, known as cold-induced sweetening, is a potato’s survival mechanism to adapt to cold temperatures. These sugars act as a kind of natural antifreeze, preventing the potato cells from freezing and ensuring the potato’s survival until warmer weather returns.

You may have noticed this when storing potatoes in the fridge or cold cellars. So keep that in mind.

2. Type of Potato

Just like people, every potato is unique! Some varieties of potatoes are naturally sweeter than others. For instance, Yukon Gold potatoes are known to have a naturally sweet flavor.

It’s all in their genes and is independent of their storage conditions. So, if you’re a fan of sweeter spuds, go for them.

3. Potato's age

Age matters a lot when it comes to potatoes. As potatoes get older, their starches start to convert to sugars, leading to a sweeter taste. They literally get sweeter with age!

I have had some experience eating potatoes that have been around for too long and can tell you age makes a big difference. So, if you’ve got some old potatoes lying around, don’t be surprised if they taste a bit sweeter than the fresh ones.

4. Cooking Method

The way you cook your potatoes can also bring out their natural sweetness. Ever noticed how roasted or frying potatoes taste a bit sweeter than usual?

That’s because these cooking methods can caramelize the sugars on the outside, leading to a more sugary flavor.

How can you Tell if a Potato is Sweet?

There is no easy way to determine the sweetness of your spuds. So you have to rely on your knowledge and experience to make an educated guess whether a potato has a high chance of being sweet.

  • Storage Conditions: If you know your potatoes have been chilling in cold conditions (like a refrigerator or a very cold pantry), they’re more likely to have undergone this process of cold-induced sweetening. This process turns the potato’s starches into sugars, making the potato taste sweet.

  • Potato Variety: Some potatoes are just naturally sweeter than others. For example, the Yukon Gold is known for its naturally sweet flavor. If you know the variety of your potato, you might be able to predict its sweetness.

  • Taste Test: The most reliable way to know if a potato is sweet is simply to taste it. Cook a small piece and give it a try before preparing the rest of the potato. It’s like a sneak peek of what’s to come!

Which Regular Potatoes are Naturally Sweet?

While all potatoes have natural sweetness due to their carb content, some varieties are known to have a more robust flavor profile than others. Let’s see which ones are those.

Yukon Gold Potatoes

why are my potatoes sweet

These potatoes are like the golden child of the potato family. They’re known for their naturally sweet flavor, and their buttery, rich texture makes them versatile for many dishes (source).

Red Potatoes

washed red potatoes

While not as sweet as Yukon Golds, red potatoes have a subtly sweet flavor. They are often used in salads and stews where their slightly sweet taste can complement other ingredients.

Which Potato Varieties are Less Sweet?

While some potato varieties taste sweet, others are known for their savory profile. They can be used to offset potential sweetness and ensure a balanced flavor.

Russet Potatoes

First up, we have Russet potatoes. These are the classic potatoes that you’re probably most familiar with. They’re the ones you typically use for baking and making French fries.

Russets have a high starch content and a mild flavor, which leans more toward earthy than sweet. They are the potato equivalent of a plain white t-shirt—simple, versatile, and not too flashy.

White Potatoes

white spuds

Next, we have white potatoes. These guys are a versatile variety with a slightly nutty flavor. They’re less sweet than some other varieties, making them a good choice for savory dishes.

They are always handy to have around and able to adapt to various situations.

Purple Potatoes

purple spuds

Lastly, we have purple potatoes. Despite their unusual color, these potatoes have a nice flavor that’s often compared to the taste of a roasted chestnut. They are ideal when you want to make an impression.

Is it Safe to eat Potatoes that are Sweet?

It’s safe to eat potatoes that taste sweet. The sweetness in potatoes is due to the conversion of starch into sugar, a natural process that can occur when potatoes are stored in cold conditions. This process, known as cold-induced sweetening, is a survival mechanism for the potato and is not a problem for us.

However, it’s worth noting that while the sweetness itself isn’t a problem, the conditions that cause a potato to become sweet can sometimes lead to other issues. For example, when the starch in potatoes turns to sugar due to cold environments, it increases the chances of producing acrylamide (reference).

This substance can be a problem if it’s exposed to high temperatures, such as the ones that occur during frying or baking.

So, if you have potatoes that seem sweeter than normal, it’s a good idea to boil or steam them instead of frying or baking them. This way, you can enjoy them safely without any worries.

How can I Prevent my Potatoes from Turning Sweet?

Although you have no control over how the potatoes are handled before buying them, there are a few things you can do to reduce the chances of getting potatoes that are way too sweet for your taste.

  • Avoid Cold Temperatures: Firstly, you must keep your potatoes away from the cold. Cold temperatures trigger the conversion of starch to sugar in potatoes, leading to a sweeter taste. So, keep your potatoes out of the fridge and away from cold garages or basements, somewhere cool but not cold.

  • Store in a Cool, Dark Place: Next, find a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place for your potatoes to hang out. A pantry or cupboard is often a good choice. The cool (but not cold) temperatures help prevent the potatoes from sprouting or becoming sweet.

  • Don’t Store for Too Long: Remember, potatoes aren’t fine wine—they don’t get better with age. Potatoes are best when eaten within a few weeks of purchase. Over time, even in ideal storage conditions, the starch in potatoes begins to convert to sugar. So, don’t let your potatoes overstay their welcome.

  • Choose the Right Variety: Lastly, pick your potatoes wisely. Some varieties of potatoes are naturally less sweet than others. If you prefer a more savory potato, opt for varieties like Russet or Idaho potatoes, which are known for their less sweet flavor.

How can I get rid of the Sweetness in Potatoes?

Now, what if you already have potatoes that have turned sweet? Don’t worry; you can use a few tricks to dial back the sweetness.

Let Them Warm up

If your potatoes have turned sweet because they were stored in a cold environment, one of the simplest things you can do is to move them to a warmer place and let them sit for one or two weeks.

By doing this, you give them a break to convert some of their sugars back into starch, reducing the sweetness.

Apply White Vinegar

Vinegar to the rescue! You can easily remove the excessive sweetness by using vinegar. It’s like magic that can help balance out the flavors. Just place the potatoes in a container, and add three to four cups of water and one to two spoons of vinegar.

Let them soak for one to two hours, and then cook. This little trick can help reduce the sweetness and bring your potatoes back to their savory best.

How can I Make Potatoes Less Sweet in Cooking?

So, you’ve got some sweet potatoes on your hands, and you’re thinking, “How can I tone down this sweetness while cooking?” Well, you’re in luck because a few things can be done about it.

Add Acidic Ingredients

We are going to fight sweetness with acidity. Acidic ingredients like lemon juice, vinegar, or even a splash of white wine can help balance out the sweetness of your potatoes.

It’s like a seesaw, with sweetness on one side and acidity on the other. When you add an acidic ingredient, it helps to level things out.

Use Savory or Spicy Components

potatoes, garlic and spices

Another way to counteract sweetness is by introducing savory or spicy elements to your dish. Think of ingredients like garlic, onions, chili flakes, or even a dash of cayenne pepper.

These ingredients can create a flavor contrast that can help downplay the potatoes’ sweetness.

Choose the Right Recipe

Lastly, the recipe you choose can make a big difference. If your potatoes are sweet, why not use them in a dish that embraces their sweetness?

Some recipes can accommodate a bit of sweetness better than others. For example, a potato curry or a roasted vegetable medley might be more forgiving of potatoes that are sweet than a traditional mashed potato dish.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the sweetness of your potatoes can be caused by many things, such as their variety, age, and even the way they are stored and cooked. While potatoes like that might surprise you, it’s a natural occurrence and nothing to be worried about.

Still, understanding why your potatoes are sweet can help you better manage their flavor and even use their unusual sweetness to your advantage in specific recipes. So the next time you bite into a potato and find it sweeter than expected, you’ll know what to do!