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Warning: peel potatoes before cooking.

Warning: Peel potatoes before cooking

Potatoes are good food. "In fact," says Cornell University food scientist Nell Mondy, "a diet of only milk and potatoes can supply the human body with all the nutrients it needs." But what part of the potato you eat can make a difference. Toxic glycoalkaloids--solanine and choconine (not leptine)--found in the plant's edible tubers have, in large dodes, caused human poisoning. Normally these compounds are concentrated almostly exclusively in the vegetable's skin. But at the June 18 Institute of Food Technologists' annual meeting in Las Vegas, Cornell graduate student Barry Gosselin presented data showing that cooking potatoes in their skins causes these toxic compounds to migrate from the skin into a potato's flesh.

Since a potato produces glycoalkaloids in response to quite variable conditions -- including stress (such as drought), improper storage (under a grocer's lights in or warm temperatures), rough handling (bruising) and sprouting--there's no way of predicting the levels in any individual potato, Gosselin says. Depending on their storage and handling, for example, one potato may have negligible levels, while another from the same plant may have levels high enough to cause headaches, nausea and diarrhea in susceptible people. But because about 90 percent of glycoalkaloids start in the skin, most can be removed by peeling.

However, there has been a growing trend, especially in many New York restaurants, according to the researchers, to serve potatoes--particularly new potatoes and other small ones--that were boiled in their skins. Gosselin's studies now show that doing so, even if the potatoes are then peeled before eating, can transfer 10 percent of the skin's glycoalkaloids into the adjacent flesh, a situation he says "could pose a health hazard." Worse still, he believes, is the growing trend to eat these potatoes unpeeled. But his research also points to a more aesthetic reason for peeling potatoes before cooking: It lowers the potato's phenol content, causing less grey-black discoloration after cooking (from a binding with iron).
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Title Annotation:research on toxic substances in potatoes
Publication:Science News
Date:Jul 4, 1987
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