Potatoes to Plate: How Research Makes a Difference


In this day and age, our potato choices abound.  Stroll through the produce department of grocery stores or wander from vendor table to vendor table at farmers’ markets to check out the options.  Gone are the days where a single variety dominated shopper’s baskets.  Now you can choose from russet potatoes, red potatoes, yellow potatoes, fingerling potatoes, and even purple potatoes.

a handsome potato

a handsome potato

The large variety of potatoes come from (in part) by organizations such as universities with an agriculture curriculum (Colorado State University Colorado Potato Breeding and Selection Program),  research centers such as the San Luis Valley Research Center, and even governmental entities like the Colorado Department of Agriculture on behalf of the Potato Grower Association.   And don’t forget to count farmers into the equation. Each entity works together towards a common goal of producing a tasty and hearty tuber.

The CSU program has been in existence since 1979 and has yielded some impressive results.  With crossbreeding different potato varieties, they are coming up with long-lasting and disease resistant potatoes that not only taste good, but show promise for creating potatoes that are better for you.   Imagine a spud that can help decrease blood pressure or even a tuber that can potentially improve weight loss?

But how many items are taken into consideration when it comes to potatoes?  The answer may surprise you.

From the farmers’ perspective, yield is a consideration.  Who wouldn’t want to grow a crop with higher yields?  Higher yields mean more income for the farmer on the same amount of acreage.  A new variety may have great flavor, last a long time in storage, but if the yield  is less than other varieties, what is the incentive to grow it?

Disease resistance is also important.  If potato varieties can have some disease resistance, it means that the farmer does  not have to apply as many chemicals to the crop during the growing season.

From the consumer perspective there are things to consider as well.  One item that may not come readily to mind is the appearance.    Should it be large and substantial or petite?  What good is a potato if consumers do not like how it looks?  Would you buy a purple-fleshed potato?  What about one with a bold yellow interior?  These characteristics  are  rated in a project conducted by Sastry S. Jayanty, Ph.D.  with Colorado State University titled, “Screening of Potato Germplasm for Flavor as a Potato Breeding Selection Tool”.

Flavor is a high priority for the shopper.  Do they prefer ones with a nutty flavor?  What about a buttery note?  Perhaps earthy?  What about a variety that is reminiscent of lemons?  Should potatoes offer a variety of flavors?

Another item that is important to consumers is texture?  Who wouldn’t love a spud with a fluffy texture when baked?  Or how about a variety that holds up well when boiled?  But a tuber would fall flat if the end texture was mealy when cooked.

Scientists are interested in creating a potato variety that can be considered good for you.  Imagine spuds with a higher nutritional content?  Maybe they provide more vitamin C?  How about increased zinc or more iron?

What about health benefits?  Who wouldn’t buy potatoes that can help reduce blood pressure?  Or imagine a variety that can help you lose weight.  (Initial testing has yielded some promising results.)

So you see, research isn’t just about crossbreeding plants over a number of years.  So many factors come into play: nutrition, yield, appearance, health benefits, and flavor.  But you the consumer, benefit from the time, dedication, and research that goes into producing the perfect potato.   Potato research… it really does make a difference!


2 responses »

    • Thanks. I am pretty happy with it. And I am also a purple potato fan. We ate the potatoes we got at the conference. One was Majestic and the other was a white-fleshed potato. Both were quite good… baked with a little salt and some butter.

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