RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—In the United States, the potato is king of the veggies. Americans chow down on more than a whopping 130 pounds of spuds each year, on average. The problem is, half of potatoes eaten in the U.S. are in the unfavorable form of french fries, potato chips, and other belt-busting junk-food treats. Knowing this, it's easy to understand why the reputation of potatoes has been mashed through the years. But a 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition could have you fixin' healthy, fresh taters again. Researchers found that people who eat pigmented potatoes boast lower levels of oxidative stress and inflammation, factors linked to chronic disease, when compared to eaters of white potatoes. "The colorful varieties do contain more antioxidants. For example, pink, red, blue, and purple potatoes provide anthocyanins, which are thought to be responsible for the health benefits of many berries," explains Mary Ellen Camire, PhD, a fellow with the Institute of Food Technologists and a professor of food science and human nutrition at the University of Maine. She also notes that yellow-fleshed potatoes provide carotenoids that could boast vitamin A action.
Here are some colorful potato varieties to grow yourself or look for at the farmer's market this year:
According to pesticide residue data, tests on nonorganic potatoes turned up seven known or probable carcinogens, 12 suspected hormone disruptors, nine neurotoxins, and five developmental or reproductive toxicants. Nonorganic potatoes also landed on Environmental Working Group's 2010 Dirty Dozen list, which highlights the most pesticide-laden produce items. Colorful organic potatoes are often available at farmer's markets, but you can pretty easily grow your own at home, too. If you don't have the space, don't worry: Learn to grow potatoes in bags. (Just always use certified-organic seed potatoes to cut down on plant disease risk.)
Potato cooking tips
When dealing with colorful organic spuds, it's best to include the potato peel in your dish because nutrients are most concentrated in the skins, explains Camire. It's also best to avoid cutting up the potatoes too long before you're ready to use them, because exposing the insides of potatoes to oxygen accelerates the breakdown of antioxidants, including vitamin C. Camire recommends rapid cooking and prefers using a microwave, but if nuking food's not your thing, she says roasting and steaming are also good options.
Note—If you're planning to cook potatoes at a high temperature, it's best to properly soak them to reduce levels of acrylamide, a potentially carcinogenic compound that occurs naturally in starchy foods, especially potatoes, when cooked above 248 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Seed Savers Exchange, an organization that preserves heirloom varieties and sells, among other things, certified-organic seed potatoes, the All Blue is always the first type of potato to sell out. Not to mention, it's a surefire hit with children. (Think blue mashed potatoes!) Good for baking or frying, you can also use this potato to bake homemade colorful chips. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
If you want to incorporate a colorful potato into a salad, this is your spud. All Red is an exceptionally heavy producer, and due to its low starch content, it also retains its shape well after boiling. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
Seed Savers Exchange calls this red-skinned, golden-fleshed potato an easy-to-grow, excellent choice for a general cooking potato. The recipe possibilities are endless! (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
This rose-skinned, yellow-fleshed potato withholds a shade of mystery. Seed Savers Exchange says it was allegedly smuggled into America in a horse's feedbag in the 1800s. That's good for us because it's a versatile potato best used with its skin intact. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
The German Butterball has been long cherished for its outstanding flavor, thanks in part to its creamy butter yellow flesh. Organic Gardening magazine gives this potato props—it's a former winner of its "Taste Off" contest. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
La Ratte receives rave reviews as a nutty-flavored fingerling that works wonders in potato salads. This potato is a huge hit at farmer's markets, and chefs love it, too. Once you get your hands on La Ratte, try this recipe for Fingerling Potato Salad with Cider-Caraway Dressing (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
This tater type retains its rosy-red flesh even after you cook it. Pair with All Blue and Purple Viking for some patriotic-colored dishes for the Fourth of July! (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
Seed Savers Exchange says this potato boosts a low glycemic level, which helps keep your blood sugar stable. This potato is best suited for boiling and use in salads. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
Camire says a good rule of thumb is to estimate nutrient density based on the intensity of color. "Dark-purple tubers are likely to have more antioxidants than do pink ones," she explains. And this dark-purple-skinned potato is one that Seed Savers Exchange is very excited to offer to backyard gardeners. "It is a consistent favorite. A huge potato, great producer, with full purple/pink marbled skin and brilliant white flesh," says Pat Torgrimson of Seeds Savers Exchange. "I'm not aware of anyone who has not been satisfied with this potato's productivity or organoleptic qualities." (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
Rose Finn This German potato boasts a waxy texture, making it ideal for a variety of culinary creations involving steaming, boiling, grilling, roasting, or frying. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
If you want a sweet-flavored potato, Yellow Finn is your spud. It's buttery sweetness makes it the go-to classic European gourmet potato best used for boiling, mashing, frying, or baking, according to Seed Savers Exchange. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)
A decades-old favorite of chefs and gardeners alike, this drier-fleshed, buttery-colored potato is ideal for baking and mashing. For creative menu ideas utilizing this old favorite, visit the Rodale Recipes Finder. (Photo courtesy of Seed Savers Exchange)