Potatoes with much higher levels of carotenoids have been created through U.S. Department of Agriculture studies. Carotenoids are powerful antioxidants that can help prevent some forms of cancer and heart disease.
Scientists working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) bred yellow potatoes with carotenoid levels that are two to three times higher than those found in most other potatoes available to buy in U.S. grocery stores, such as the Yukon Gold (a yellow-fleshed potato relatively high in carotenoids). This is according to the website Agricultural Research.
The reason for seeking to increase the carotenoid levels was due to the associated health benefits. Carotenoids are organic pigments that are found in plants. Some studies have shown that people who consume a diet rich in carotenoids from natural foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are healthier and have lower mortality from a number of chronic illnesses. The foods with the highest levels tend to be brightly colored.
Recent USDA attempts to increase carotenoid levels in potatoes have been successful. The research was led by plant geneticist Kathy Haynes and nutritionist Beverly Clevidence.
The researchers found, from analysis, that wild potatoes with intense yellow flesh that have about 23 times more carotenoids than white-flesh potatoes. From this the researchers crossed wild potatoes with cultivated types to create high-carotenoid potatoes.
The optimal potato created has a purple skin and yellow flesh and has been called ‘Peter Wilcox’ (named for a professor at Loyola University in Baltimore). The overall carotenoid levels in this potato are more than 15 percent higher than those in Yukon Gold. The potato is now on sale in certain parts of the U.S.
According to culinary experts at the New York Times, the Peter Wilcox variety is described as: "cloaked in deep purple and lined in gold. It’s as appealing to the palate as it is on the plate, beautifully textured, firm but not waxy, whether roasted, boiled or sliced into wedges and fried, with a full, earthy flavor that hints of hazelnuts."
The research has been published in the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.