We’ve all been there: you’re cooking dinner one evening, and when you reach for the potatoes, you discover that they’ve started to sprout. Perhaps you’ve bought a bit too many on your last trip to the supermarket, or the weather warmed up and they started sprouting a bit faster than they should. The important question is ‘What should you do with the sprouted potatoes?’ Should you throw them away or use them to make dinner, after all? If you decide to do the latter, you should be aware that it isn’t without its dangers.
How Eating Sprouted Potatoes Can Be Dangerous
All potatoes contain two natural glycoalkaloid compounds - solanine and chaconine - that are unfortunately toxic to humans when consumed in excess. Other vegetables, particularly eggplants and tomatoes, also have these chemicals albeit in lower concentrations.
Interestingly, scientific research shows that solanine and chaconine are beneficial for the human body in small quantities due to their antimicrobial activity as well as their ability to lower blood sugar and cholesterol, so eating fresh vegetables that contain these compounds in moderation is still a good idea.
The concentration of glycoalkaloid compounds is the lowest in freshly-harvested potatoes, but over time, more and more solanine and chaconine build up in the vegetable, particularly in the skin and any green parts and sprouts. This is why we have all been told to stay away from green potatoes.
What happens if you consume too many glycoalkaloids?
A few hours or even a day after consuming a tainted vegetable, people start experiencing symptoms of gastrointestinal distress, such as vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. In those rare cases when large quantities of solanine and chaconine are consumed, patients start exhibiting symptoms of shock, namely a rapid pulse, confusion, fever, headaches, and low blood pressure.
Sometimes, this can result in death. So yes, eating green potatoes or potato sprouts isn’t just risky, it can be life-threatening. This is exactly why the National Capital Poison Center advises consumers to throw away potatoes that have already sprouted.
Is It Possible to Reduce the Number of Toxic Compounds in Sprouted Potatoes?
First and foremost, it’s necessary to point out that any potatoes that exhibit any sign of going bad should be discarded immediately, this includes potatoes with brown soft spots, signs of mold or any other growth around the sprouts, black dots on the skin, or inside the vegetable, and shriveling. Likewise, a potato with extremely prominent sprouts probably already contains a significant amount of toxic compounds and should also be thrown away.
If the sprouting has barely started and the potato looks fresh and healthy, chances are they can still be salvaged. To reduce the number of toxic compounds in the vegetable, it’s necessary to peel, break off the sprouts, dig out any signs of the sprouts with a small knife and discard all of these parts, since it is believed that the majority of the glycoalkaloid compounds are stored in the skin and the sprouts of the vegetable.
When it comes to the best way to prepare salvaged potatoes, research shows that the only method that effectively reduces the number of toxic compounds is frying, while boiling, microwaving, and baking has no effect. Still, scientists aren’t completely sure that all these practices are sufficiently effective, so use them at your own risk.
Needless to say, the best way to safely enjoy your mashed or baked potato side dish is by only buying the amount you need to cook one dish and use up any leftovers before they start sprouting. It’s also important to store potatoes right in order to prevent them from sprouting in a matter of days - any dark, dry, and cool place will do.
Finally, please make sure to keep sprouted and green potatoes and potato scraps away from animals, as your pets are just as susceptible to the dangers of solanine and chaconine as you are.
Please share this important information with others!