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The Humble Potato Can Kill You!
The Irish wear the green, they shouldn't eat it!Click thumbnail to view full-size
If GREEN appears, stay well clear!
Potatoes Can Be Toxic!
A few years ago, a community in Haiti or Cuba, I forget which, were starving due to crop failure or one of the other woes visited on the world's disenfranchised. Some bright village elder hit on the idea of feeding them on the tops and seed fruit (the little green fruits like cherry tomatoes) of potatoes and the green leafy parts - not surprisingly once you know the facts, about 20 people died.
The same think happened in Europe when Raleigh, or Drake, or some other of the queen's pet pirates, first brought potatoes to England. The population looked at them and thought, "Aha, throw that dirty, earthy looking "root" away, it must be the tops and the little green fruit you have to eat." Same result, deaths happened and people soon gave them up until the correct part began to be eaten, the tuber, or spud. These same buccaneers brought tobacco, too, another member of the same toxic group of plants, among which is the deadly nightshade.
Potatoes are a member of the Solanaceae family of plants. This includes tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, tobacco, jimsonweed, mandrake, petunia and deadly nightshade, (belladonna a classic poison used for centuries).
With potatoes, the opposite of traffic lights holds true, "When you see red, go ahead, when green appears, stay well clear." Well, you don't see red in most cases, but the thing to beware of is any green part of the potato: the tops, green fruit, the sprouts coming out of the domestic potato and the green sheen they develop when old or exposed to light and damp. The green is actually just harmless chlorophyll, but it should act as a warning: the potato is unsafe.
Your spuds for consumption should be kept as a mild temperature, dry and away from light to stop growth occurring and the dreaded green - actually signals a concentration of toxic alkaloids called Solanine - appearing on the skin of the potato. It's not ideal, either, to just skin or cut away the green parts and then eat the potato, it should be thrown away when the alkaloids appear.
Why? Well, you might have to eat a lot of them to make you very ill at this stage - maybe 2 kilos or so - but Solanine at higher concentrations, such as found in other family members, is a dangerous substance indeed and can cause a whole host of nasty symptoms, even resulting in death. These are dry mouth, dilated pupils, ataxia, urine retention, hallucinations, convulsions, coma and...call the mortician!
Unfortunately, Solanine does not dissolve in water, so soaking the potatoes does not help, neither is it destroyed by cooking.
Supermarkets are contributing to the problem by storing potatoes in clear plastic bags which expose the contents to strong light. The toxin content doubles every 24 hours in this situation; potatoes were better served in the old days when grocers kept them in heavy jute, or paper sacks away from daylight.
The tomato has hardly any harmful alkaloids at all, only traces of solanine, so is not considered dangerous as is the potato.
If the potato had been discovered in the 21st Century, instead of the 16th., the good old ‘ealth and safety wallahs in Brussels would have surely banned it. (using The Novel Foods Legislation).
Not that all the watchdogs do is bad. A new variety of potato was introduces to the USA and Europe in the 1960’s, The Lenape, that was discovered to contain unsafe levels of glycoalkaloids after a consumer had nearly died! The potato was hurriedly withdrawn in 1964, although is was considered safe for chipping with the skin, etc., removed. Many other strains have been developed over the last century which have had to be discarded because the potatoes’ “defences,” the toxins, were too high from the gate.
As the burning at high temperature of the tobacco in a cigarette partially destroys harmful alkaloids, it’s far safer smoking one - at least in the short term - than eating one, or chewing the tobacco as is popular in the South of the USA. Then you can live to the ripe old age of 55 and die of lung cancer or other smoking related diseases.
I might add that eating a lot of potato has made me feel a bit under the weather from time to time, I put it down to not doing too well with carbohydrate and high blood sugar. But I might just have eaten spuds I had around too long. I’m going to watch that in future: so should you!