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12:03AM

The sweet potato silver-bullet?

WSJ story on how researchers are trying to achieve a more industry-friendly sweet potato.  Unlike its rather uniform cousin, the russet potato, sweet potatoes come in irregular shapes and with irregular sugar content. There's been a push for years to get a single major fast-food chain to pick up sweet potato fries as a healthier alternative--a goal I first ran into at the Clinton presidential library/graduate school years back (a regional ag improvement scheme that struck me as worthy).  The trick is not getting the fries industry to change its machinery so much as getting the sweet potato sector to change the shape and consistency of its product so that the fries industry can process them with the same speed and sustainability as russet potatoes.

Right now there is some sweet potato fries production, using regular potato machinery, and ConAgra is set to open this fall in Louisiana (coincidentally not far from Little Rock) what it claims will be the first dedicated processing plant generating fries, waffles and other products.

Sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes, but the roots of a plant.  The goal of researchers at places like ConAgra is to modify the vegetable to the point where it consistently grows out into a brick-like shape with more uniform color/sugar content.  One line of breeding already seems close to the goal, suggesting a mass production capacity down the road (optimistic is 3-5 years, pessimistic is 7-10).

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Reader Comments (5)

Interesting. Just wanted to clarify the botany. Sweet potatoes are tuberous roots. The other kind of potatoes, often called Irish potatoes although they actually originated in South America, are tuberous underground stems. Both are plants.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLuigi

'Sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes, but the roots of a plant.' Please tell me that's a joke, you know, to see if we're paying attention.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKaren

Makes my heart sink just a bit. Why not eat a baked sweet potato, all funky shaped and not some genetically modified crap processed and fried in a factory? Thanks, ConAgra, but I'll be a gastronomical Luddite.

June 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBen

Burgerville in the Oregon/Washington area does sweet potato fries as a seasonal thing. They're wonderful.

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterChris Furniss

I agree with Ben. I don't need a consistent potato, I need a natural one.

June 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

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