Potatoes are a versatile, delicious, and nutritious addition to any meal. But what happens when those potatoes sitting in your kitchen start to sprout? Is it still safe to eat them?
Here, we’ll delve into the science behind sprouting potatoes and whether or not they are safe to consume.
What Causes Potatoes to Sprout?
Sprouting, also known as “eye growth“, occurs when the potato starts to grow new shoots from its eyes – the little indents or dimples found on the surface. Sprouting is a natural process, indicating that the potato is doing what it’s biologically designed to do – grow into a new plant.
Potato sprouting is more likely to occur under certain conditions, such as warmth, light, and high humidity. That’s why it’s recommended to store potatoes in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated area to slow the sprouting process.
Are Sprouting Potatoes Safe to Eat?
The answer to this question is: it depends. Sprouting itself is not necessarily a problem. However, sprouting potatoes can sometimes produce a naturally occurring toxic compound called solanine, which can be harmful if consumed in large quantities.
Solanine is part of the plant’s defence against insects, disease, and predators. In potatoes, it concentrates in the green parts of the plant, including the sprouts and any green patches on the skin. Consuming high levels of solanine can cause symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, a burning sensation in the throat, and even neurological disorders in severe cases.
However, the levels of solanine are generally not high enough to cause harm unless large quantities are eaten. Also, solanine is not destroyed by cooking, so no matter how you prepare the potatoes, the compound will still be present if it was there to begin with.
How to Handle Sprouting Potatoes
If your potato has just begun to sprout, it’s generally safe to eat. Simply remove the sprouts and any green areas before cooking. The rest of the white flesh potato is safe to eat.
However, if the potato has many large sprouts or has significantly shrunk or wrinkled, it’s best to throw it away. These are signs that the potato is past its prime, and the levels of solanine could be higher.
Moreover, if you notice a bitter taste while eating a potato, even after removing the sprouts and green areas, it’s best to stop eating it. The bitter taste can be a sign of high solanine levels.
In conclusion, sprouting potatoes can still be safe to eat, but they should be handled carefully. Always remove the sprouts and any green areas, and pay attention to any signs of spoilage or bitter taste. Proper storage can also help prevent sprouting and prolong the shelf-life of your potatoes.
Brian Sheridan has an allotment in Edgbaston and is a competitive grower. Brian is also a keen photographer and loves cooking. Brian and his wife Mary will also be running a stall at Edgebaston artisan market this year, selling products made from the allotment, including his award-winning relish!