For the week of July 14, 1999  thru July 20, 1999  

Idaho’s great nutrient bargain

Why it’s time to rush to the Russet

Express Staff Writer

l14potato.jpg (8982 bytes)The potato, for which Idaho is famous, is an unsung vegetable, but for the health conscious, the tuber is a dream come true.

A glimpse at the Food and Drug Administration’s nutrition label for the potato reveals that the potato is one of the great nutrient bargains.

Why? The potato provides a large percentage of essential nutrients and protein for the number of calories it provides.

"It’s really a wonderful food," said clinical nutritionist Stephan Siele of Ketchum’s Avalon Holistic Health Center

The nation’s most popular vegetable—the average American consumes 126 pounds of potatoes a year—might have a reputation, however, as a fattening, unhealthy food because it is most often served deep fried in oil or baked and doused with butter.

The potato by itself, though, has very few calories and is almost fat-free. A medium sized potato weighing five ounces has just 100 calories, according to FDA labeling.

Potatoes are low in calories because they contain almost no fat. Nearly 100 percent of the potato’s calories comes from carbohydrates and protein.

"The potato is also a good source of dietary fiber," Siele said. Potatoes provide 12 percent of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowance (USRDA) of fiber.

A medium potato contains three grams of protein and 23 grams of carbohydrate. It offers, according to the USRDA, 50 percent of the Vitamin C, 20 percent of the Vitamin B-6, and 21 percent of the potassium needed for good health.

"Potatoes, especially the juice, act as an anti-inflammatory, which can help with rheumatoid arthritis," Siele said.

The potato is also low in sodium and high in potassium, which makes it an ideal food for preventing and treating high blood pressure, Siele said.

The potato also contains trace minerals—such as manganese, chromium, selenium, and molybdenum—that are essential to human nutrition.

Because the largest concentration of vitamins and minerals is found in and just beneath the skin, potatoes are most nutritious when eaten with the skin, Siele said.

Food scientists at Texas A&M proved that potatoes are second only to broccoli in terms of disease preventing antioxidant activity.

Oxidative activity—from sources such as smoking tobacco or pollution—produce free radicals, which destroy DNA in the body and open the door for the development of diseases.

"The potato gets overlooked," said Nora Olson, potato specialist with the University of Idaho. "People need to focus more on the potato, instead of just on meat and leafy, green vegetables. It’s an excellent source of so many nutrients, and it’s so easy to prepare."

With its Russet variety, Idaho is the leader in potato production, ahead of Washington, Colorado and Wisconsin.

Idaho’s soil, water, clean air and climate provide perfect conditions for growing potatoes, according to Olson. The rich volcanic soil is ideally suited for potatoes and cool nighttime temperatures help prevent disease.

In 1997, the potato crop brought in $525 million to Idaho potato farmers. That represents 16 percent of the total revenue generated from Idaho agriculture and livestock, according to Doug Wong of Idaho Agricultural Statistics.

"Potato farming is critically important because it provides a stable base year round," said Pat Cole, vice president for legal and government affairs at the Idaho Potato Commission. "It’s a baseline reservoir that’s always there."

Cole, who makes sure that sacks of potatoes marked "Idaho" are actually from Idaho, said that potatoes have been a catalyst for tourism.

Other potato facts from the Idaho Potato Commission

 Never bake a potato in aluminum foil. That, according to the Idaho Potato Commission, seals in too much moisture, making the texture pasty instead of dry and fluffy.

 Of the 126 pounds of potatoes consumed by Americans each year, 17 pounds are in the form of potato chips.

 When introduced to Europe in the early 1600s, the potato was cursed as an evil food. The Scots refused to eat the potato because it was not mentioned in the Bible.

 The potato is so hardy that it grows below sea level behind Dutch dikes to almost 14,000 feet in the frigid Andes and Himalayas mountains, as well as in the deserts of Australia and Africa.

 The Inca Indians of Peru were the first to cultivate the potato in about 200 B.C. In addition to a food source, the Incas used potatoes to measure time by correlating units of time to how long it took potatoes to grow.

 Idaho’s first potato grower was a Presbyterian missionary, Henry Spalding, who introduced potato farming to Nez Perce Indians at a mission in Lapwai in 1837. The mission failed, but the potato crop succeeded.

 "New potatoes" are not a variety but are young potatoes of any variety that are harvested during the first nine months of the year.

 Potatoes should not be refrigerated,

 The town of Shelly, near Idaho Falls, puts on the annual Idaho Potato Harvest Festival, which has been held on the second Saturday of September since the 1930s.

Potato recipes

 Potato Gnocchi from Chef Keith Otter of Otter’s Restaurant in Ketchum:

Blanche potatoes in salted water, peel and put through food mill or push through strainer.

For every four pounds of potato, add one cup of all-purpose flour.

Add one egg, chives, salt and pepper.

Roll the dough into a cigar-shaped cord.

Cut into half-inch pieces.

Blanche in salted water until the gnocchi rise to the surface.

Serve immediately or chill in ice bath until ready to serve.


 A potato sandwich from Chef Chris Kastner of Evergreen Restaurant in Ketchum:

Spread mashed potatoes—can be left over or fresh—into a rectangular cake pan and let cool.

Saute wild mushrooms in garlic, shallots and red wine and reduce until the liquid is gone.

Puree baked sweet potatoes in a food processor and add sour cream.

Cut out small, two-inch squares of the mashed potatoes.

Place a layer of mushrooms on top, followed by some of the sweet potato puree.

Add a slice of tomato and top with a final layer of mashed potatoes.

Wrap the "sandwich" in a thin pastry.

Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees.


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