Nutritional Qualities

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Potatoes are a good source of energy and vitamin C. Yellow-fleshed varieties owe their color to fat-soluble carotenoids (lutein, zeaxanthin), purple and blue ones to water-soluble and antioxidant anthocyanins. Potatoes are notable for containing significant levels of the toxic alkaloids solanine and chaconine, a hint of whose bitterness is part of their true flavor. Most commercial varieties contain 2 to 15 milligrams of solanine and chaconine per quarter-pound (100 grams) of potato. Progressively higher levels result in a distinctly bitter taste, a burning sensation in the throat, digestive and neurological problems, and even death. Stressful growing conditions and exposure to light can double or triple the normal levels. Because light also induces chlorophyll formation, a green cast to the surface is a sign of abnormally high alkaloid levels. Greened potatoes should either be peeled deeply or discarded, and strongly bitter potatoes should not be eaten.