November/December 2009
Potatoes go Low-Carb

With low-carb diets sending potatoes onto the menu of taboo dinner items, growers are seeing decreased demand and decreased value of the once-prized American staple. But a new variety being grown in Florida could help reverse the anti-spud attitude of late.

The yet-unnamed variety was developed by HZPC, a seed company based in the Netherlands and tested by University of Florida researchers (UF). UF Assistant Professor Chad Hutchinson said they have been testing this potato for five seasons.

We have been evaluating its horticultural characteristics for those seasons, and consistently it’s risen to the top of the lines from HZPC,” Hutchinson said. “I think it finally got to the point where it is a no-brainer.”

Among the qualities tested on the new potato were flavor and appearance and its ability to grow in the sands of Florida. Its low-carbohydrate characteristic was an added benefit to finding an attractive potato that grows well in the state.

“The variety was selected long before Atkins or South Beach or before any of these groups were running,” said Don Northcott, marketing manager with HZPC American Corp. “The variety was selected for its ability to grow under hot conditions, beautiful skin, high yields just a good looking potato.”

Northcott said Florida growing seasons are different from many for growing potatoes. When most areas go from long days to short days, the Florida season goes from short to long.

“It’s cool when you plant and is warm most of the season,” he said. “So we selected Florida because if it can work there and in Wisconsin, we know it would fit in California and Maine and other places it’s very adaptable.”

Where a Russet Burbank will take 130 to 140 days to mature, this new, low-carb variety takes 80 or 90 days.

“A shorter time in the field means guys don’t have as long a wait,” Northcott said.

The size of the new potato variety is different from other varieties out there as well. Northcott said it’s not a round white, and it’s not a long Russet it’s in between.

After selecting this variety for trials and production, researchers found out that the variety has 25 to 30 percent fewer carbohydrates than standards like Russet Burbank and Yukon Gold, Northcott said.

“We knew there were some varieties that would have the potential to be lower in carbohydrates because there are traits for that,” he said. “We examined a select set of material and compared it with known industry standards lo and behold we had one low in carbohydrates.”

Though the growers and researchers have seen what they’re calling tremendous promise in the new variety, others are saying it’s not necessarily a good move for the potato industry.

“My view is that the Idaho potato is already a nutritious product it’s got only 100 calories, no fat, no sodium and no cholesterol,” said Frank Muir, president of the Idaho Potato Commission. “Our focus is on potatoes as we’re currently growing them.”

Muir said he is also concerned by stories he’s seeing in the mainstream press about the new potato.

“The other thing that concerns me is that the press release says it won’t taste like anything currently available,” he said. “If it doesn’t taste like a potato, people aren’t going to eat it. It’s going to be a real niche potato for people who are just paranoid about carbs.”

Though some may not see a widespread acceptance and demand for the new low-carb spud, Northcott said it’s getting a lot of press.

“At least they’re talking about potatoes, right?” he said.

Northcott said the new low-carb potato is expected to be available to consumers starting in January 2005.

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