Potato is a starchy root vegetable of Central American origin. This humble tuber is one of the most widely grown root crops, and one of the cheapest staple food ingredients consumed all over the world. Botanically, it belongs to perennial subspecies of Solanum tuberosum, in the Solanaceae family.
Potato plant grows about 12 to 18 inches in height and bears many tubers underground. The tubers usually have round to oval to oblong shape but vary widely in size. Internally, its flesh features cream-white, rose red, or russet color depending upon the variety with moist, crunchy texture and once baked, becomes soft and has unique buttery “potato” flavor.
Some of the popular cultivars are:-
White/yellow skin and flesh – Yukan gold, Yellow finn, Russian banana, Milva.
Red skin and flesh – Ida rose, Norland, Cal red, French fingerling.
Russet skin and flesh -Russet burbank, Ranger russet, Utamilla russet.
Health benefits of Potato
Potatoes are one of the finest sources of starch, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. 100 g provides 70 calories. They carry little fat (just 0.1 g per100 g) and no cholesterol.
They are excellent natural sources of both soluble and insoluble fiber. The dietary fiber in them increases the bulk of the bowel motions. Thus, it helps prevent constipation, decrease absorption of dietary cholesterol and thereby, lower plasma LDL cholesterol. Additionally, its rich fiber content also helps protect from colon polyps and cancer.
The fiber content aids in slow digestion starch and absorption of simple sugars in the gut. It thus helps in keeping blood sugar levels within the normal range and avoid wide fluctuations. For the same reason, the potato considered as a reliable source of carbohydrates even in people with diabetes.
The tubers are one of the richest sources of the B-complex group of vitamins such as pyridoxine (vitamin B6), thiamin, niacin, pantothenic acid, and folates.
Fresh potato along with its skin is one of a good source of antioxidant vitamin, vitamin-C. 100 g of fresh tuber provides 11.4 mg or 20% of daily required levels of this vitamin. Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps the human body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals.
They also contain adequate amounts of many essential minerals like Iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, copper and potassium.
Red and russet potatoes contain good amount vitamin A, and antioxidant flavonoids like carotenes and zeaxanthins.
Recent studies at Agricultural research service (by plant genetics scientist Roy Navarre) suggests that flavonoid antioxidant, quercetin present in potatoes has anti-cancer and cardio-protective properties.
Selection and storage
Fresh vegetables can be readily available in the groceries everywhere. Look for tubers that feature firm in texture and have smooth waxy surface. They normally have numerous “eyes” on their surface. Avoid those that feature soft in hand, have a slumpy appearance, with cuts, patches, and bruises.
Often, you may come across greenish discoloration with sprouts over their surface. Do not buy them since this discoloration is an indication of old stock and a sign of formation of toxic alkaloid, solanine.
At home, store them in cold, dry and dark place. Exposure to sunlight and excess moisture will cause potatoes to sprout and produce toxic solanine alkaloid.
Preparation and serving methods
Being root vegetables, they often subjected to infestation, and therefore, should be washed thoroughly before use in cooking. Fresh, cleaned tubers can be enjoyed with skin to get benefits of fiber and vitamins.
Potato employed in dishes in many ways:
Skin-on or peeled, whole or chopped, with or without seasonings.
Mashed: Here potatoes are boiled and peeled, and then mashed with an addition of milk, cream, and butter.
Whole baked, boiled or steamed.
Fried in oil or chips.
Prepare delicious soup/chowder with leeks, corn, onion and seasoning with salt and pepper.
Cut into cubes and roasted; scalloped, diced, or sliced and fried.
Grated and prepare dumplings, and pancakes.
Potatoes may contain toxic alkaloids, solanine, and chaconine. These alkaloids present in the greatest concentrations just underneath the skin and may increase proportionately with age. Exposure to sunlight also causes green discoloration; thus displaying areas of the tuber that may have more toxins. However, this does not provide a definitive clue, as greening and solanine accumulation can occur independently of each other. Some varieties may contain greater solanine concentrations than others. Cooking at high temperatures (over 170 °C) somewhat destroys these toxic substances.
Solanine alkaloids, when consumed in larger amounts may cause a headache, weakness, muscle cramps and, in severe cases may cause loss of consciousness and coma.