Coloured Potatoes

There are many people who have an interest in rare varieties of potatoes, especially when they have unusual colours or qualities not found in normal reds and whites. Some potatoes are distinguished only by a deeply coloured skin; their flesh is the usual white or cream. Others have coloured flesh.

It is surprising that coloured potatoes are not better known. In South America, there are potatoes with a diversity of colours: purple, pink, orange and yellow, often with a contrasting colour around the eyes. The colour of the flesh is often similar to the skins.

In the early days, to get potatoes accepted as food, coloured flesh was not an advantage. It is likely that some of the potatoes first brought to Europe in the 16th century were coloured, but from the start, potatoes breeders concentrated on those with dull colours. The end result of this is that most people in Britain believe potatoes to be either red or white.

Many coloured potatoes have excellent culinary qualities but they are not grown commercially, probably because they would be rejected by customers. They are becoming better known, but mainly by keen amateur growers.

The colour of potatoes is determined by genetics. There are genes for red and purple pigments, and genes which cover particular parts of the plant - flowers, leaves, skin, eyes, and flesh. There are other genes which affect the depth of colour. The coloured genes in modern varieties tend to be recessive in many instances, so they have no visible effect on the plants. However, this isn't always true, and Desiree and some of its descendants have purple flowers.

Here are some varieties which you may come across and which are worth trying, with my notes on each:

Edzell Blue - Scottish potato, very floury, superb taste. Blue skin and white flesh. White flowers.

Kestrel - Creamy flesh, but skin splashed with purple. Early.

Yetholm Gypsy - Tartan potato-purple,red and blue skin. Flesh cream. Floury; good flavour. Bluish-purple flowers.

Shetland Black - a blue ring in its flesh; dark blue skin. Buttery, attractive taste; floury. I've never got this one to flower, unfortunately. The haulms are small and insignificant when grown in containers.

Salad Blue - Dark blue skin; blue-purple flesh; about as floury as King Edward; good though not outstanding favour; when boiled flesh goes dull purple. Best steamed or fried. Lovely blue flowers.

Congo - Similar colouring to Salad Blue; knobbly; white flowers; a well-proportioned, slim plant. Alan Wilson calls these stodgy and insipid. I thought them better than this and reckon they have a buttery flavour and floury texture ; a little better in character than Salad Blue.

Highland Burgundy Red - dark red skin; white flesh with a prominent pink ring.

Salad Red - similar to Salad Blue but pink flesh. No information on flavour yet, but reputedly good.

Cardinal - red, with red flesh.

Urenika - Blue skin, blue flesh. From New Zealand. Reputedly rich taste.

Collessie - Pink Fir Apple / Shetland Black cross. Reputedly has the good flavour of both its parents, smoother skinned than Pink Fir Apple, and more pigmented than Shetland Black.

Other coloured types: All Blue, Port Wine Kidney, Maori Chief, Egyptian Red, Canada Black, Moe Moe, Peru Peru.

Nigel Deacon / Diversity website


-just found that Gillian Reynolds has written a short appreciation of spuds in her radio review in the Daily Telegraph, 27 Jan 05...

......Sunday will be the 12th National Potato Day at the Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA). To celebrate not just the day but the peerless tuber itself, Quentin Cooper enlists the help of Sandy Knapp at the Natural History Museum to trace spud science through the ages. They should come round to my house, where every day is a potato fest. (Radio 4, The Material World, 4.30 pm, 27 Jan 05.)

Here's a copy of the photo appearing alongside the review:

The Heligan Salad Blue potato

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