We’ve all been there. You bought great potatoes, and before you know it, they sprouted, became soft and wrinkled, or worse turned green or black. One option is to process them as soon as you buy them. But what if you want to keep them for longer? This article will show you how to store your potatoes to keep them fresh longer next time.
Potatoes are starchy root vegetables originating from South America. Since the colonization of the Americas, it has become a food staple across the world. There are well over 5000 varieties of potatoes around the world. Potatoes are very versatile. We all enjoy our French fries, baked potatoes, potato purees, hash browns, gnocchi, and much more. And if you love food as much as I do, you know the importance of using fresh produce to cook these delicious dishes. So how can we keep these potatoes beautiful without turning bad in our pantry?
Why do potatoes sprout?
Potatoes naturally sprout. They are tubers: organs of the potato plant that store the plant’s energy for the winter months. In autumn, when the temperatures drop, the plant dies, except for the new potatoes. Inside, the plant stores energy in the form of starches. The same starches that give us energy when we eat them. The potatoes remain dormant until spring when they sprout and grow new shouts.
Storing potatoes at high temperatures makes them believe that spring has come. Naturally, it starts sprouting. It consumes the starches to produce shouts, depleting the potato. But more importantly, the level of glycoalkaloids, natural toxins, increases. These toxins concentrate mostly in the eye and the skin that has turned green.
The green hue of the skin of a sprouted potato comes from chlorophyll (the same natural chemical that makes leaves green). It is not toxic (nobody dies from eating spinach). However, it is a good indication of the concentration of toxins. These, we need to avoid. Sprouted potatoes are therefore not safe to consume.
Why are my potatoes green?
Potatoes turn green when they are exposed to too much sunlight. Like many plants, potatoes when exposed to sunlight will produce chlorophyll. This compound is responsible for making plants green. The more your potato will have, the greener it will be. Chlorophyll is non-toxic and potentially beneficial for human health. However, your potatoes’ green hue is also a sign of the development of toxins like solanine and chaconine.
Solanine and chaconine develop alongside chlorophyll in potatoes when it is exposed to environmental stress. Solanine causes mainly gastrointestinal disturbances such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
Of course, the dose makes the poison and current statistics show that it is solanine poisoning is rare but exists as reported in this article from the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. And in the not-so-distant past, large outbreaks have been linked to people eating bad potatoes.
Why do potatoes wrinkle?
Decaying potatoes will appear wrinkled or shriveled. They are signs of dehydration and decay. It also happens when potatoes sprout. These potatoes are not fresh and not safe to eat. Wrinkled potatoes are mushy, flavorless, and even taste sour.
Besides not being tasty, wrinkled potatoes are potentially poisonous. Potatoes, like all members of the nightshade family, normally contain some amount of solanine. However, exposure to light increases the quantity of solanine present in potatoes. Solanine can be quite poisonous as mentioned previously.
So if you have wrinkled potatoes in your pantry, don’t give it a second thought and throw them on your compost pile or in the trash.
So how to store potatoes?
The best practice would be to buy potatoes as you need them, but we all know that this is not always possible. So how to properly store potatoes to prevent them from sprouting, wrinkling, turning green, and spoiling too fast? Various factors that need to be considered when storing potatoes.
Potatoes need to be stored in a cool place, with a temperature of around 50°F/10°C. Warm temperatures are responsible for the development of sprouts.
Avoid the warm spots in your kitchen. Don’t store potatoes next to the oven, under the sink, and on top of the fridge.
However, do not store them in the fridge. Refrigerators are too cold. Temperatures lower than 50°F/10°C change the chemistry of the potato: starches are transformed into sugar making them sweet when cooked. They are also more likely to develop an unappetizing brown color.
Over time, potatoes release vapor and carbon dioxide. So it’s important to let them in a ventilated place or container. Do not leave them in the plastic bag they came in! The condensation of the vapor will make them rot quickly.
Favor putting them in a mesh or paper bag. Another solution would be a bamboo steamer or an aerated container.
Keep your potatoes away from sunlight. This will cause them to turn green. Do not leave them on your kitchen countertop and even less in front of a window. Keep them in a cupboard, or a drawer. You can place them in a basket, a paper bag, a steaming basket; anything that will keep them away from light.
As potatoes and onions need to be stored the same way, you might be inclined to store them together. But avoid it! Onions release gases that will speed up the sprouting process.
How to tell if a potato is bad?
Signs that potatoes have turned bad are mold and black spots. These are the signs of bad bacteria contamination and we cannot ensure that cooking will destroy them.
It is also recommended to avoid the consumption of potatoes that are soft and wrinkled, or even green and sprouted. They are all associated with an increased presence of toxins that could be quite harmful to the body. They can first alter the taste of the potatoes and also provoke some stomach pains or worse.
When stored well, potatoes can last from 2 to 3 weeks in a cool kitchen. They are primarily affected by temperatures. If your kitchen is too warm, sprouting will start, and they will become uneatable. But be aware of keeping them away from the sunlight to prevent them from turning green. Also, make sure to not leave them in the plastic bag they came in to prevent condensation and mold from forming.
A good place in your pantry to store your potatoes is a drawer or cupboard far from the oven, the sink, and the fridge. I like putting them in a basket or a paper bag (especially if they are full of soil).