The Daily Spud

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Spud Sunday: Healthier Than Thou

My, but we have grown fond of tinkering with our food.

Our 21st century edibles are awash with low fat, vitamin-enriched, cholesterol-free labels. As consumers demand more and more bang for their grocery buck, it gets ever harder for an unadorned fruit or vegetable to just be. It seems that they must be both new and improved to attract our attention.

Perhaps that’s why scientists at Japan’s Obihiro University have been subjecting potatoes to electric shock treatment.

zapping a potato with ultrasound

Zapping a potato with ultrasound
(photo: Kazunori Hironaka / Press Association Wire)

They say that the rush of antioxidants produced by the application of either electric shocks or ultrasound makes the potato more nutritious. That’s as maybe, but what’s more important, surely, is what you do with the potatoes afterward. If their final destination is the deep-fat fryer, then what matter that you’ve got a “healthier” potato to begin with.

Meanwhile, if it’s higher levels of antioxidants that you’re after, those of you in the UK could simply switch to the newly available “healthy purple potatoes.”

Purple Majesty, a non-GM variety developed at Colorado State University, reportedly contains up to ten times the level of antioxidants found in white potatoes, and are now being grown in Scotland. I’ll happily admit that I’m as fond of a nice purple potato as the next person, but they’re not always what I want on my plate (and just you try feeding funny coloured spuds to my father and see how far you get). In the end, whatever potatoes you eat (and I do suggest you eat at least some, purple or otherwise), surely it matters more that they are part of a balanced diet which includes a rainbow of other vegetables and fruits.

purple and white potatoes

Purple - it's the new healthy

And, finally, what can I say about the so-called Protato?

Scientists at India’s Central Potato Research Institute are working on a spud which will have 60% more protein, resulting from the insertion of protein genes from amaranth into potatoes. It’s aimed at addressing issues of malnutrition in Indian children, with plans to incorporate the new potato into the government’s free midday meal programme in schools. Many commentators note that this is at the expense of promoting amaranth and pulses, the most important sources of protein in the Indian diet. I can’t help but wonder what Jamie Oliver, hero of the healthier school dinner, would think.

8 Comments

  1. I’m all for scientific research and innovation but what happened to the idea that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line? Inserting amaranth protein into potatoes when amaranth is perfectly edible is like taking the scenic route – the journey may be more impressive, but you use up more time and energy just to end up in the same place.

    I never realized how much research is devoted to the spud! 8-)

  2. Daily Spud

    Monday, November 1, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Thought you’d have an opinion on this one TN :) And there is indeed a lot of research devoted to the spud – more than even I realise I reckon. I guess that’s what you get for being a universal staple!

  3. I’m all for scientific endeavour but I do think sometimes that a heathy dose of pragmatism goes a long way.

  4. Hey Aoife, I hear ya. It does no harm to recall either that, on occasion, that Mother Nature really does know best…

  5. I can’t help but see the potato as Protacanstein, all that is missing his the neck bolts and a scar on the fore head…uh, which side is up? LOL

    Things that make you go hmmm…

  6. Daily Spud

    Friday, November 5, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    Indeed Chef E, Frankenspud and his ilk do make me go hmmm…

  7. I’m with everyone else on this. Why not just promote amaranth and potato salad? Delightful!

    I used this Illustrative Story earlier today–NASA spent a million billion dollars and years and years of research to come up w/a pen that would write in the zero gravity of space. They did it, but at great cost both in money and time. The Soviets just used pencils. Sometimes, it’s better to be a Soviet. :)

  8. Absolutely, Jenni, the pencil-in-space story illustrates the point perfectly. Sometimes it is better to be a Soviet!

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