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Potato chippers see orange.

A new potato with orange flesh and a creamy white or red skin could be an unusual addition to our current selections of this common vegetable.

Potatoes with flesh "about the color of a cantaloupe" have never been reported, according to geneticist Charles R. Brown, who discovered them in one of his test plots.

The egg-sized spuds turned up in experimental crosses of potatoes originally collected in the Andes.

The new orange tubers shouldn't be confused with sweetpotatoes or yams, which are each classified in botanical families that are different from those of regular potatoes.

Brown says they do have an aftertaste "somewhat like a sweetpotato but without the sweetness," and a texture that's a tad mealy. "Personally, I like them, but I must admit I look for the novel when it comes to potato flavor."

Curiously, the new potatoes contain very little beta carotene--a naturally occurring pigment that imparts an orange hue to carrots, sweetpotatoes, and yams. Our bodies convert beta carotene into vitamin A.

The.potatoes do, however, contain high levels of other, related carotenoids called zeaxanthin and lutein. The two compounds are xanthophylls--also present in many other plants. Corn, squash, and citrus contain the compounds, as do green leafy vegetables. We also see them in the reds and yellows of autumn leaves.

As yet, the nutritional value of zeaxanthin and lutein is unknown. But Brown says further research may reveal their potential as antioxidants. Such compounds (beta carotene and vitamins C and E are good examples) are thought to retard aging and possibly protect against cancer.

The zeaxanthin trait is controlled by a single gene, Brown says. "We think it's a different form of the gene that controls yellow flesh color."

Potatoes with yellow flesh are well known--especially in Europe, where they're more common than white ones. Consumers may also occasionally spot the odd, purplish-blue-fleshed spuds in grocery stores. Their color comes from still another plant pigment, called anthocyanin, found in the potato's skin.

Potato breeders from several snack food companies have requested samples of the new orange potatoes.

"We're interested in them because their novelty might boost consumer appeal," says Bob Hoopes, a breeder geneticist with Frito-Lay, who is based in Rhinelander, Wisconsin.

Hoopes crossed several of the orange-fleshed tubers with varieties Frito-Lay currently uses for potato chips. Most weren't as bright as the orange parents, but had deep-yellow-colored flesh instead.

"We've made new crosses this year to try and recover the orange color," Hoopes says.

Potatoes were first cultivated by South American Indians about 8,000 years ago. Spanish explorers introduced potatoes to Europe in the 16th century and immigrants from Ireland and Scotland later brought them to North America. Today, they're one of our most popular vegetables. The average American eats 129 pounds of potatoes each year--about one-third of a pound per day.--By Julie Corliss, ARS.

Charles R. Brown is with the USDA-ARS Vegetable and Forage Crops Production Research Unit, Irrigated Agriculture Research and Extension Center, Rte. 2, Box 2958-A, Prosser, WA 99350-9687. Phone (509) 786-3454..
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Title Annotation:Charles R. Brown produces potatoes with white skin and orange flesh.
Author:Corliss, Julie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:Jun 1, 1992
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