Potato researchers develop spuds with antioxidant qualities, visual appeal

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Chef Allan Williams gets excited every time he goes through the doors of Fredericton's Potato Research Centre.

With the vibrantly coloured, healthy potato varieties researchers are developing, Williams sees a world of possibilities.

"You have different tastes, different colours, different textures. It's all exciting," Williams said as he prepared several potato dishes in the research centre's basement kitchen.

Research and development chef Allan Williams of the Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College in Charlottetown, sets out samples of potato chips made from different types of potatoes on Feb. 19. - Photo by The Canadian Press

FREDERICTON -

Chef Allan Williams gets excited every time he goes through the doors of Fredericton's Potato Research Centre.

With the vibrantly coloured, healthy potato varieties researchers are developing, Williams sees a world of possibilities.

"You have different tastes, different colours, different textures. It's all exciting," Williams said as he prepared several potato dishes in the research centre's basement kitchen.

Chefs and home cooks will be able to give dishes plenty of visual appeal using the new red, yellow and purple varieties of potatoes the research centre recently unveiled.

"To me, this is really attractive," Williams said, holding up a platter of chips cut from a potato that had white flesh and a purple starburst pattern inside.

Red and blue potato croquettes sat on other plates.

"And I know my little guy gets excited about these," he said, pointing to a bowl of purple chips.

For the chips, he came up with flavours such as Bombay citrus and Thai coconut curry.

These potatoes don't just look intriguing and appetizing, he said, but they're also healthier.

Williams, the research and development chef at the Culinary Institute of Canada at Holland College in Charlottetown, works with the BioPotato Network to create foods that are inviting yet are made in such ways that their health benefits are maintained.

It doesn't make sense to deep-fry these potatoes, he said. "If you deep-fry, you lose the health benefit."

The centre unveiled 13 new varieties of potatoes last week.

Producers will get two years to work with the potato varieties. After that, they can bid to get exclusive use of the variety for up to five years.

Red-skinned potatoes are among the varieties stirring up interest, and a handful of the potatoes introduced this year are red-skinned.

They're sought after by chefs and consumers who want to put more colour on their plates.

"It's important that the red be quite deep and bright and that the red doesn't fade over storage, and where possible, be maintained when cooked," said Agnes Murphy, a research scientist at the centre.

Murphy's colleague, Benoit Bizimungu, said many people are also looking to healthier foods.

"There is a trend in recognizing the health benefits: vitamin C, high potassium, high fibre," he said.

"Most of the red potatoes are very popular at market and there is a lot of interest in them.

"Having a distinctive colour makes them more attractive."

Dino Kubik works to get the potatoes used commercially.

"What we're finding is that some of these potatoes have antioxidant levels that are about half of what is in a blueberry," Kubik said.

That may not sound like much, but consider that the average Canadian eats 32 kilograms of potatoes a year, compared to 700 grams of blueberries. Antioxidants are linked to potential benefits for human health.

"Looking at these, if instead of eating a plain white potato we ate an antioxidant potato, a yellow pigment potato, we would get a significant amount of antioxidant in our diet."

While part of the breeding process comes down to visual appeal, Murphy said the potatoes are also healthier and hardier, which means that farmers can avoid pesticides.

The work is done the old-fashioned way without any genetic modification. Many varieties are planted and tested before a dozen or so are selected each year.

"It's all produced under standard production methods. The colour is natural; it's just something you select for," Murphy said.

Organizations: Holland College, Culinary Institute of Canada, BioPotato Network

Geographic location: FREDERICTON, Charlottetown

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