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With Potatoes, More Color May Mean Better
Nutrition By Linda McElreath
October 24, 2001
Many consumers think that potatoes are an almost perfect food.
They put them at the pinnacle of their Top 10 list of favorite vegetables,
especially when the potatoes are french-fried to crisp perfection. Along with
providing complex carbohydrates, potatoes are a source of important nutrients
like niacin, thiamin, and vitamin C.
So why would plant breeders want to improve on this
already-popular dietary staple? Because brightly-colored red, orange and purple
potatoes might one day provide health-promoting properties way beyond those
present in today's mostly white- and cream-colored tubers. And
bright-gold-fleshed and red-skinned potatoes already seem to have won a lot of
Charles R. Brown, a plant geneticist with the
Agricultural Research Service, thinks
more colorful potatoes might give consumers better nutrition, as well as more
variety in flavor. He is in ARS' Vegetable and Forage Crops Production
Research Unit at Prosser, Wash. Brown has made dozens of breeding crosses,
searching each new progeny for signs of additional health benefits.
So far, the primary benefit likely to be derived from the more
boldly colored potatoes seems to be heightened antioxidant activity. Brown
thinks that the pigments that produce the colors may also function as
antioxidants in the human diet.
And the bright colors occur naturally. Brown identifies and
selects his test plants from mainstream potato breeding programs. But even so,
he needs to do more research to learn about traits such as composition and
quantity of pigment, growing requirements, and yields before "colored spuds"
such as these can be commercialized.
To learn more, see
story in the
issue of Agricultural
ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the
U.S. Department of Agriculture.