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Coming soon: low-carb potatoes

Long spurned by Atkins dieters, the less-starchy spud is poised for a comeback next year.

August 02, 2004|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

It has jokingly been dubbed "spud lite."

But farmers and marketers are hoping that a new breed of less-starchy potato will allow low-carb dieters to not only have their steak, but a baked potato too.

The designer spud, a European import, has about 30% fewer carbohydrates and calories than the popular Russet Burbank found on many American dinner plates. It has about 13 grams of carbohydrates per 100 grams (about 3.5 oz.) compared with 19 to 20 carbs per 100 grams for the russets, says Don Northcott, a marketing director for HZPC, a Dutch agricultural firm that developed the "low-carb potato."

Thus, a 7-ounce, low-carb potato would have about 120 calories, compared with about 180 for the Russet Burbank.

Samples weren't available to a reporter, but Chad Hutchinson, Florida's state potato specialist, describes the still-to-be-named spud as "distinctive." It's oblong, with yellow flesh, a higher fiber content than most potatoes and a "low specific gravity and density," he says. In a photo, it appears to have very smooth skin.

And, he boasts: "It has great flavor and texture."

Farmers are hoping the low-carb potato will help to resurrect U.S. potato sales, which have been mashed by the low-carb craze.

The potato variety is sold throughout much of Europe, says Northcott, though it is not marketed there as a low-carb product. Europeans love potatoes, and sales there have not suffered as the low-carb craze has not ignited there -- at least not yet, Northcott says.

Compounding the potatoes' woes in the U.S.: America's obsession with convenience. Vegetables that need to be washed and cooked are out of favor, while pre-washed salads have become a huge hit for grocery stores.

In response, the U.S. Potato Board, which represents farmers, is promoting potatoes as a good source of vitamin C and potassium. "We'd like to point out that carbs give you energy," says Linda McCashion, a board spokeswoman. "Lance Armstrong eats potatoes."

Hutchinson stumbled on the low-carb virtues of the new potato by accident. He had been evaluating hundreds of potato varieties to determine the most suitable variety for Florida farmers. New potato varieties are created by cross-breeding existing varieties -- and some have fewer carbs than others.

SunFresh, a six-farmer cooperative in Florida, has licensed the rights to the low-carb potato and trademarked it, says Jim McDowell, the company's marketing director.

The co-op will sell the designer potatoes next year in special packaging with a yet-to-be-determined name. They will also be sold fresh -- within a week or so of the time they are harvested, McDowell says. He promises that they will be tastier than most potatoes now sold in supermarkets, which often are stored for months.

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