There is more to potatoes than meets the eye and it is about time to thoroughly ponder the powerful position and potential that this much underestimated food source has, especially seeing as 2021 has been declared by the United Nations as the Year of Fruits and Vegetables.

Coinciding with #WhenHopeWhispers, a campaign launched by Potatoes South Africa (PSA) to give a voice to stakeholders who weathered the storm of COVID-19, dietician Claire Julsing Strydom believes now is an opportune time to be as vocal as possible about potatoes.

“Take potassium” she says.

“There is more potassium in a potato than there is in a banana.”

The Heart & Stroke Foundation South Africa endorsed potatoes as heart-healthy when consumed as a carbohydrate, with its skin on, baked, boiled, or grilled in quality ingredients. The potato’s contribution to the country’s progressive push to combat cardiovascular disease through salt-limiting legislation, also deserves better understanding.

Strydom explains: “Where potassium plays a role, is that it stunts the impact of sodium on blood pressure, blunting its effect.”

Interestingly, and certainly counting in favour of local potato consumption, is the potassium levels in South African potatoes which exceeds imported counterparts.

According to Strydom a 180–200-gram potato serving contains about 750 milligrams of potassium.

Furthermore, potatoes contain minerals like zinc and phosphate, vitamins C, B, and if left with its skin on the fibre content is almost double than that of a peeled potato. Nutritionists generally agree that “jacket potatoes” put up a good fight against fat – when prepared in a healthy manner and dressed in quality herbs and spices.

If anything is to be peeled away, Strydom emphasises, it is the layers of misperceptions pertaining to the health qualities of potatoes.

Lesser known than the potassium punch it packs, for example, are the phytonutrients stored in a single potato.

Digging a little deeper into a potato’s composition, or the “food matrix” as it is called in scientific circles, brings one closer to the complex nutritional character of this vegetable.

Strydom calls this the “rainbow perspective of potatoes”.

To contextualise her view, she mentions that deep purple blue berries and red tomatoes contain phytonutrients like resveratrol and lycopenes.

“Fruits and vegetables contain a variety of over 2000 phytonutrients. Finalex, flavonoids, folates, cucuomines, anthocyanins and carotenoids are but some of the key phytonutrients you will find in potatoes.

“It is only when you look at the totality of a potato – the colour, cultivar, type and the soil in which it was grown – that one gets a clear picture of a potato’s food matrix.”

Another little-known fact about potatoes, Strydom says, is that they also contain proteins called patatins which, at about 4.5 gram in a medium potato, works well to improve satiety together with the volume one gets from eating a potato.

Eating potatoes ultimately comes down to preparation and portions.

According to Strydom, “the best way to prepare potatoes is to boil them with their skin on, especially baby potatoes, 90g of which is equivalent to a slice of bread. These days we also know that when we cool a carbohydrate and re-heat it, it has an impact on its glycaemic composition, lowering its glycaemic effect.”

Having wide-spread public access to such information, she argues, would be possible if the different variants of potatoes were creatively marketed and displayed in stores, a view shared by PSA CEO Willie Jacobs.

Says Strydom: “If we can have cheese tasting, why can’t we have the same for potatoes? We have seen it work for certain fruits, helping consumers differentiate between Golden Delicious and Granny Smith apples. Surely we can do the same for potatoes.”

Jacobs said the same recently when he appealed for stepped-up engagement between product and consumers.

An engaging exercise, certainly, is what PSA aims to accomplish during its #WhenHopeWhispers campaign – an initiative that will take a comprehensive look at the industry through the involvement of stakeholders such as Strydom and many others.

It will include, among other elements, the recorded stories of various role players, concentrating mainly on how the industry and its people remained resilient at a time of COVID-19 tribulation.

When #WhenHopeWhispers culminates on 5 May with an all-inclusive report and inaugural State of the Potato Industry Address (SOPIA), and event to which the media is invited, PSA will have reason to be proud of giving potatoes the centre-stage position it deserves