This spud’s for you

This spud’s for you

Helping Canadian farmers grow the best potatoes
April 10, 2014

From browning, sprouting and spotting, even the rugged potato — of which Canada produces more than $1 billion worth each year — is not without its challenges. Rickey Yada, Canada Research Chair in Food Protein Structure and professor at the University of Guelph, has been researching solutions to the aforementioned spud afflictions for more than three decades. In doing so, he and his team in the Department of Food Science and Biophysics Interdepartmental Group have become invaluable to maintaining Canada’s reputation as a world-leader in the potato industry.

Yada’s spud studies began thirty years ago when he was asked by Agriculture Canada to solve two storage-related problems. Potatoes are usually stored in warm temperatures and sprayed with chemicals to keep them from sprouting. To reduce the use of these chemicals — a potential health and environmental concern for consumers — the industry resolved to store potatoes in cold facilities. Cold storage, however, causes the starches to convert to sugars, which burn and turn dark brown when deep fried.

Using equipment funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Yada and his team identified different potato breeds whose starches don’t break down into sugars as easily, solving the cold storage conundrum and helping the potato chip heavyweights produce golden chips.

Yada is now collaborating with potato breeders from Canada and the U.S. to find varieties that contain fewer enzymes and substrates (molecules upon which enzymes act) that cause potatoes to brown when peeled. This means companies can ship pre-peeled potatoes for the grocery and restaurant markets without soaking them in certain preservatives, to which many consumers are allergic.

Yada and his team are also currently looking for potatoes with a low glycemic index containing starches that break down into fibre rather than sugar, providing a better option for diabetics as well as the many people for whom potatoes are a dietary staple.