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Published October 29, 2010, 01:20 PM

Serving up smashing spuds

NDSU researchers see great potential in colorful potatoes Among the hundreds of potato varieties that North Dakota State University researchers work with, some are certainly eye-catching.

By: Kristen Daum,

Among the hundreds of potato varieties that North Dakota State University researchers work with, some are certainly eye-catching.

Donning vibrant hues of blue, purple and red, specialty spuds stand out from more mainstream varieties like the Russets or Yukon Golds typically found in grocery store displays.

NDSU’s potato breeding program began in 1930 with the goal of establishing superior varieties that meet the needs of regional producers in the potato industry.

That includes everything from growing disease- and pest-resistant varieties to evaluating different types for use in the commercial marketplace, said Asunta “Susie” Thompson, a potato breeder and associate professor at NDSU.

Potato breeders at the university create hybrid varieties by crossing two parent versions, but there’s no genetic engineering involved at this time, she said.

The color of a potato’s skin and its interior flesh stems from complex genetic coding that’s influenced by a specific makeup, she said.

For instance, the purple color means the potato is high in anthocyanins, which are involved in the formation of antioxidants.

Few of the specialty varieties can be found in local grocery stores because widespread availability is still increasing, Thompson said.

Instead, the unique varieties are more easily found in summertime farmer’s markets or from specialty growers in the Red River Valley, she said.

The colorful potatoes can also make for festive cooking in the kitchen, no matter how they’re served.

“It can really make your plate pop with color and make it fun,” Thompson said.

Just don’t peel and boil them, Thompson advises.

That can cause the blue or red potatoes to lose their color on the inside, and the food product could potentially turn gray. Instead, the potatoes can be steamed in the microwave to retain the color.

Potatoes are high in nutrients such as vitamin C, potassium, fiber and protein, so the vivid varieties can be helpful alternatives when trying to entice children to eat vegetables.

“It’s a great vegetable to have, and kids might be more interested in eating them if they’re bright and cheery and colorful,” Thompson said.

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