18th and 19th Century Ireland was a place of potato variety. You could buy blue potatoes, red potatoes, black potatoes, long weird-looking potatoes, and ones that were visually similar to your ugly cousin. Now we are lucky to see two or three types of potato at the supermarket, and even these look mostly inbred. It is time for a change on Planet Potato.
Nicole Buckler reports.
Over the years, as supermarket demands took hold, the range of potatoes was whittled down to just a few good-looking yet desperately homogenous types. But now a few of the old uglies are making a comeback, and consumers are delighted!
Bringing these potatoes back from the dead isn’t such an easy task. Many of the older varieties have disappeared forever – sad for anyone who would have liked a bag of black crisps. However potato growers Peter Keogh & Sons are on the case. They have got hold of some seeds from a carefully–managed seed programme. It is via this seed bank that they have started to re-introduce some of these long forgotten ‘Heritage’ varieties.
Each Heritage variety has an original colour, shape and taste. But one of the most popular has been the blue potato – first grown in Scotland in the 1900s. Looking suspiciously like the purple taro of Asia, these potatoes have a dark purple skin. The flesh inside is deep indigo blue which retains its colour after cooking. It has a slightly nutty taste, and fries and steams well and makes great blue mash. And serving up blue chips to the kids is a great way to make them laugh while they eat something that won’t tear a hole in their general health. This is because the blue colour arises naturally from the presence of anthocyanin, a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants have been associated with reductions in heart disease, some cancers, and muscular degeneration. Who knew that blue chips could be so awesome?
The Keogh family are hoping that the blue potatoes will attract the interest of younger eaters. This is against a backdrop of reports that demand for fresh potatoes are falling, while demand for junky substitutes are on the rise. Tom Keogh is the General Manager of The Keogh family business, which trades as Cream of the Crop. Says Keogh, “We believe these blue potatoes will draw some much needed attention to the potato in Ireland and hopefully create some interest among children and younger people who are consuming less fresh potatoes each year.”
Can’t find coloured potatoes in the supermarket? Buy the seeds and grow them yourself.
In previous years the Keogh family has also brought bright red spuds to the market, with similar success. Many families bought the red spuds for their Christmas dinner, making the roast look like it had been marinated in a rainbow. Called the Highland Burgundy Red potato, it can be introduced to kids as something Rudolph made. Like the blue potato, the red potato has been grown to combat the idea that potatoes are an untrendy and old-fashioned food. For foodies wanting more than just a pile of mash, this does recreate interest in the humble potato. Tellingly, the Keogh family sewed one acre of the blue potatoes, producing 10,000 packs, and all sold out within three weeks. They were even getting enquiries from as far away as Argentina and Germany! The red potatoes achieved similar success. It seems that we are all very interested in variety, and this can only lead us down a very interesting foodie road. And if that road is blue and red, then so be it.
You can buy seeds to grow stunning pink potatoes.
Hopefully demand for ‘alternative’ potatoes will remain strong, keeping them on our supermarket shelves. The signs are good: one story is that an Irish dude, crazed by curiosity, drove from Letterkenny to Dundalk to buy a pack of blue potatoes. This is not only because of their reputation of having a deep flavour and a fluffy texture. It is the novelty of these spuds that appeals to early adopters.
Due to our food becoming so homogenized for supermarket guidelines, we often don’t realise that potatoes have always come in many varieties, with all kinds of shapes and colours. For example, if you walk through a market in Peru, you would see red and blue potatoes everywhere, alongside other varieties which would look alien to the Irish eye. But the Irish are THE aficionados of the potato…so it is we who should start the revival of the weird and rainbowish varieties.
And for those who are suspicious of the blue potato… this isn’t a gentically-mutated experiment gone wrong. In fact, the blue potatoes are grown naturally from old seeds, so they are not blue via artificial methods.
At the end of the day, I’m all for the blue and pink crisps, and I’m totally not sharing.