Industry officials tout benefits of colorful spuds

Submitted by PVMI The new Huckleberry Gold potato variety is high in antioxidants and has a purple skin with yellow flesh. It's one of three new colorful spud varieties.

Consumer interest building for rainbow of potato varieties

By JOHN O'CONNELL

Capital Press

Potato industry officials are touting the health benefits of three colorful new varieties developed by the Tri-State Potato Research and Breeding Program.

Huckleberry gold is a fresh potato with purple skin and waxy, yellow flesh. Terra Rosa has rose-colored skin and flesh. Another variety soon to be released, A99331-2RY, has red-and-yellow speckled skin and yellow flesh.

A limited seed supply of all three varieties is available through the Potato Variety Management Institute.

PVMI Executive Director Jeanne Debons said a major fresh-pack facility has expressed interest in Huckleberry Gold, which is popular for its taste and produces moderate yields. Compared with Yukon Gold, Huckleberry Gold is lower in vitamin C and sucrose but higher in antioxidants.

"There's a smaller market for fresh, colored potatoes, but the consumer is more and more interested. They've heard about the antioxidant effects," Debons said.

Terra Rosa, a midseason specialty potato, is well-suited for both frying and baking and retains its rosy color, she said.

"You can do a lot with color, and that's what gourmet chefs like," Debons said.

Joe Vinson, a chemistry professor at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, has been pleased by the trend toward colorful potatoes and the nutritional options they afford consumers.

He chose a purple variety to feed a population of hypertensive subjects for research demonstrating a diet of plain, microwaved spuds can reduce blood pressure. Vinson is seeking funding for an animal study to measure the biological effects of eating potatoes of different colors. He suspects his research will confirm the health benefits of purple potatoes, loaded with antioxidants in their skins.

"The consumer is making a good choice I think to choose these colored potatoes over plain white potatoes, and the farmer as well," Vinson said, adding he'd be curious to learn more about the antioxidant levels in the speckled spud.

The Tri-State team includes researchers from Idaho, Washington and Oregon.

Debons believes the colorful spuds are a niche product, and more traditional new Tri-State varieties -- including Teton Russet, Owyhee Russet and a soon-to-be-released improved Yukon Gold -- will see far more production.

Rich Novy, an Aberdeen scientist, helped develop Teton Russet with the Tri-State breeding team. It's an early season variety that can be used both in processing and the fresh market. It bulks rapidly, is resistant to some types of fusarium fungus and doesn't mask the effects of potato virus Y, unlike another popular early variety, Norkotah.

"There's been a lot of interest in it, too, not just out of the Northwest but there have also been some collaborators out of the Midwest who have expressed some interest," Novy said.

The Owyhee Russet, a dual-purpose potato, yields a high percentage of large tubers. Results of Owyhee agronomy tests in Washington and Idaho are expected by January, Debons said.

Institute aids research, breeding

The Potato Variety Management Institute recently contributed $300,000 to the Tri-State Potato Research and Breeding Program.

The contribution brings PVMI's total donation to the program spanning three years to $500,000. The breeding program includes researchers from University of Idaho, Oregon State University, Washington State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

PVMI is a nonprofit organization created in 2006 by the potato commissions of Idaho, Washington and Oregon to market and administer the new potato varieties developed by the Tri-State breeding program. The funds it donated are the result of royalties collected from Tri-State varieties such as Alturas, Classic Russet, Ivory Crisp, Alpine Russet.

For additional information about PVMI visit www.pvmi.org

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