Are potatoes safe to eat?

Answered by Robert Flynn

Potatoes are generally safe to eat, but it is important to be aware of certain factors that can affect their safety. One such factor is the presence of a natural toxin called solanine. Solanine is found in the green parts of the potato, as well as in sprouts and the eyes of the potato.

Solanine is a defense mechanism of the potato plant against insects and other predators. While the levels of solanine in most potatoes are low and not harmful, if potatoes are exposed to light and start turning green, the solanine levels can increase. This is why it is important to store potatoes properly, in a cool, dark, and well-ventilated place.

If potatoes are stored in a warm and bright environment, they are more likely to develop green patches on their skin. These green patches indicate the presence of chlorophyll, which is produced when the potato is exposed to light. Along with the chlorophyll, solanine levels also increase, making the potato potentially toxic if consumed in large quantities.

Consuming small amounts of green potatoes or potatoes with sprouts is generally not harmful and may not cause any noticeable symptoms. However, if you consume a large amount of green potatoes or potatoes with a high concentration of solanine, it can lead to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and in severe cases, even paralysis or coma. It is worth noting that these severe cases are extremely rare and usually occur only with very high levels of solanine consumption.

To minimize the risk of consuming potatoes with high solanine levels, it is important to follow proper storage practices. Store potatoes in a cool, dark place, such as a pantry or cellar, away from direct sunlight. Avoid storing them in plastic bags, as this can trap moisture and promote sprouting. Instead, store them in a breathable bag or a paper bag.

Additionally, check your potatoes regularly for any signs of sprouting or green patches. If you notice any green areas, simply cut them off before using the potato. It is also a good practice to remove any sprouts that may develop, as they can also contain higher levels of solanine.

When it comes to cooking potatoes, most of the solanine is destroyed by heat. Boiling, baking, or frying potatoes at temperatures above 160°C (320°F) will significantly reduce the solanine content and make them safe to eat. However, if a potato has turned completely green, it is best to discard it, as the level of solanine may be too high even after cooking.

While potatoes are generally safe to eat, it is important to be cautious about the presence of solanine, especially in green potatoes or potatoes with sprouts. By following proper storage practices, regularly checking for any signs of green patches or sprouting, and cooking potatoes thoroughly, you can enjoy this versatile and nutritious vegetable without any concerns.