Are Raw Potatoes Poisonous?

We love growing Potatoes on our allotment and get asked so many questions about them every week.   Potatoes are a staple food enjoyed by people around the world. They’re typically cooked – boiled, baked, or fried – before being consumed. However, is it safe to eat potatoes raw?

The simple answer is that while it’s possible to eat raw potatoes, it’s not recommended due to potential health risks. Let’s explore why this is the case.

Solanine and Chaconine

Potatoes are a member of the nightshade family, which includes plants like tomatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant. This family of plants is known for containing toxic compounds, with potatoes specifically containing solanine and chaconine. These naturally occurring glycoalkaloids are the plant’s defence mechanism against insects, diseases, and predators.

Solanine is found in all parts of the potato plant, including the leaves, fruit, and tubers, but its concentration is particularly high in the green parts and the eyes of the potato. Chaconine is also mostly found in the skin of the potato.

Consumption of these glycoalkaloids in high concentrations can lead to food poisoning, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, diarrhoea, hallucinations, and even paralysis. The risk of glycoalkaloid poisoning is one reason you should never eat green or sprouted potatoes, whether they’re cooked or not.

Digestibility and Nutrient Availability

Apart from the risk of glycoalkaloid poisoning, raw potatoes are harder for our bodies to digest. This is due to the presence of resistant starch, which resists digestion in your small intestine and functions like soluble fibre in the body.

Cooking helps to break down some of this resistant starch, making the potato easier to digest and the nutrients more accessible. Cooking also aids in breaking down the cell walls of the potato, making it easier to chew and increasing the bioavailability of nutrients.

Potential Presence of Bacteria

Like any fresh produce, potatoes can harbour harmful bacteria like E. coli or Salmonella if they’re not washed and cooked properly. Cooking is an effective way to kill these bacteria, further supporting the recommendation to cook potatoes before eating them.

In conclusion, while it’s not typically dangerous to eat a small amount of raw potato, it’s generally not recommended due to the presence of harmful compounds, digestibility concerns, and potential bacterial contamination. Always aim to cook your potatoes thoroughly before consumption, and avoid eating green potatoes that have sprouted, or have not been properly stored.