Old potatoes

Old potatoes go soft and horrid but they are perfect for seed to be planted at your green home and will bring you in a wonderful crop of new spuds.

An excellent snippet by Katy Rose in the Witness (11 January) on reducing food-waste got me thinking about old potatoes. Last week I wrote about the huge crop we have this year, grown from straggly old spuds planted randomly around the garden, successfully thwarting the moles.

Last year potatoes reaped from the garden were kept in the dark in an old cardboard box, eked out because of the mole problem; then we bought a pocket and the old container was forgotten. Imagine my surprise this spring when tidying up in the garage to find it, full of dried up spuds with long skinny shoots searching for light and water. They were destined for the worm-farms when suddenly I thought that it couldn’t do any harm to plant them.

Old potatoes make good seed.

So small holes were dug, scattered randomly about the garden, a little vermicompost from the worm farms, some in between the hydrangeas, hoping to hide from the moles; perhaps fifty or more very tired-looking potatoes. And this year we have one of the biggest crops ever.

Katy Rose is right; we throw away far too much good-food. And old onions and potatoes are perfect for the garden with huge savings; we haven’t had to buy chats for planting, and they are difficult to get in any case at the best of times. We won’t be purchasing spuds for months this year.

Every night we enjoy a couple new potatoes for supper. Another advantage is that they don’t give the blood sugar surge of those from cold storage; that’s why the banters are forbidden to eat them. These spuds are "resistant starch," difficult for the enzymes in the gut to digest where they would form glucose.

Instead much reaches the colon for the teeming host known as the microbiota to feed on, forming healthy short-chain fatty acids instead of glucose.

At a recent lecture given in Howick, Prof Nola Dippenaar spoke of the importance of the microbiota which apparently weighs an incredible 2kg of bugs; we have 10 times as many bacteria, viruses and yeast cells in our gastrointestinal tract as human ones in our whole bodies.

Researchers are now calling the microbiota the "second brain" because of the profound effect that this host has on neurotransmitters in the body, and the degenerative copnditions like Alzheimer's disease.

So it’s not such an exaggeration to say that planting an old mouldy potato could influence whether we go senile or not. On that note I was saddened by a recent article in the Witness suggesting that because we were highly likely to lose our marbles, we’d better start saving for the day when we would be dumped in a home by our children whom we wouldn’t even recognise.

There was no mention of what we might do to lessen the chances of that scenario unfolding; like planting old potatoes. Prevention is better than a cure is a much trotted-out slogan, but largely ignored in practice. 

Old potatoes

Old potatoes can easily be planted if you have a large garden instead of sending them to the dump, or even the compost heap.

In just a few months you could be enjoying priceless new potatoes, newly-dug from the garden.

There is no doubt that potatoes from cold-storage are problematic; depending on how they are prepared they usually have a very high glycemic index. That means they give us a blood glucose rush, and contribute to diabetes and obesity; especially french fries.

Part of the solution is to understand what is meant by resistant starch and net carbs. Much of the fibre in our food is not digested but gives the stool bulk and feeds the microbiota; both are extremely important for our wellness.

If you want to eat potatoes, but not become obese, then learn too about retrogradation of starches; after cooking, cool them in the refrigerator and then reheat them. The molecules reconfigure themselves in a spiral making it difficult for the enzymes to digest them.

Biochemistry is an extremely complicated subject. Even the so-called experts frequently have vehemently different opinions, especially over the roles of carbs in our food.

Just take honey, for example. That from your local beekeeper which is unprocessed, surprisingly (since it consists of simple sugars) has a really low glycemic index; but once the bottling companies have got hold of it, the GI rises dramatically[1]. It's the same with potatoes; from cold-storage they give a blood glucose surge, but not from your garden; especially if you know about retrogradation.

Boil the potatoes for Sunday's braai on Saturday, and cool them overnight; it's not such a schlep.

  1. Glycaemic properties of some German honeys

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