This common, simple vegetable may seem unimpressive at first glance. However, the potato, with its humble appearance, is in fact incredibly impressive. It is surprisingly nutritious, has countless uses and in the past has sustained entire societies. So much is its importance that when a potato blight spread through Western Ireland in 1845 wiping out the potato crops, what resulted was the Great Irish Famine. Today the potato is the most consumed vegetable in the world.

VARIETIES AND USES

There are thousands of varieties of potatoes (of course, they are not all available at the grocery store). Different types of potatoes have different textures and therefore have different uses. Russet potatoes are starchy in texture and are great for baking, mashing, fries, and potato chips. Red and white potatoes (with a smooth skin) have a much waxier texture and are good for boiling, mashing, and in potato salad.

NUTRITION

Potatoes are fat free, sodium free and are an excellent source of vitamin C (45% DV) and a good source of potassium (18% DV). One medium potato also contains 8% of your daily intake of fibre, 10% of vitamin B6 and are a source of iron, thiamin, folate and magnesium. They are also slightly more nutritious with the skin on.

STORAGE

As I was looking into the proper home storage conditions for potatoes, I discovered that maximizing your potato storage potential is not as simple as you might think. In fact, the University of Idaho has devoted an entire research facility to this matter.

There are four things to consider when storing potatoes at home: temperature, light, humidity, and ventilation. If you are using the potatoes within a few days, it doesn’t matter as much where you store them. But if you are buying large quantities and intend to keep them for a long period of time, the storage location matters. Mature potatoes can be stored for months in the right conditions. New potatoes should be used within a week.

To maximize the length of your potato storage, follow these tips:

Temperature

Potatoes should be stored between 5-12°C (42-55°F). Colder than this (such as in the fridge) makes the potatoes taste sweet and encourages rotting, and warmer than this (room temperature) encourages sprouting and the growth of disease-causing microorganisms.

Light

Potatoes should be stored in the dark. Light causes the skins to turn green which tastes bitter and produces a toxic compound if eaten in large enough amounts. If your potatoes have some green skin, simply cut it off and use the rest of the potato.

Humidity

Potatoes are 80% water, therefore they need to be stored in a humid environment. If they are stored in a dry place, they will shrivel.

Ventilation

Potatoes are living organisms, even after they are harvested. This means that they use oxygen and give off carbon dioxide (like they are breathing). Therefore ventilation is important.

So where should potatoes be stored in the home?

The best place is a root cellar, but most people don’t have one, so instead they can be stored away from light in an unheated room, closet or cabinet in your home or garage. Place the potatoes in a brown paper, burlap, or perforated plastic bag to increase humidity and to prevent water loss. Do not completely seal the bag. Check the potatoes occasionally and remove those that have become soft or shriveled, as well as those that have sprouted. Do not wash potatoes prior to storage. Of course, to avoid the problem of storage, potatoes can be bought in small quantities or on an “as-needed” basis.

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