POTATOES

23 November 2011

Mum used to say that if I picked my nose, a fanged worm would come out of my skull and bite the end off.

I was three, mind you, but the message stuck. There was a whole bunch or dire warnings adults gave me that I never forgot. Cross the street without looking and the ‘demon truck’ would run me down. Forget my homework and I’d end up cleaning drains for a living.

But the cautionary note I carry with me still related to potatoes. ‘If you eat a green potato, your insides will rot and you’ll die of cancer’, I was assured. Life is, as always, less dramatic than the imagined world. But the truth is equally interesting.

Potatoes are a member of the Solinacae family to which tomatoes, capsicums and eggplants belong. They all emerged in Central and Southern America about 10,000 years ago. But along with these edible fruits, this vegetable family also counts the deadly nightshade plants as a member. In fact every single member of the Solinacae family has at least one deadly aspect. It might be the stems, leaves, berries or roots (they all vary) but they have in common the chemical glycoalkinoids solanine and chaconine.

You thought Paris mash was a mouthful, how about those chemicals?!?!

In fact you need to eat a whole of them to make yourself ill, but when you reach that level of toxicity the results can range from cramps and nausea to coma and even death.

On potatoes, it is the green skin that holds the deadly components. The flesh beneath, however, is perfectly edible. Potatoes turn green when exposed to light, so storing them in a cupboard or fridge prevents the problem from happening in the first place.

Now, before you start disavowing potatoes in favour of rice, put the problem in context. The average human would need to eat about 500g of green potato skin to become ill, and mortal toxicity occurs at around 1kg. That’s in a single day. So, while the science might be certain, the context is far less clear.

In short, peel your potatoes and you don’t have a worry in the world. But pick your nose? Well, we all know the worm is real!
Steak frites with whipped horseradish butter

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