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Are Sprouted Potatoes Safe to Eat?

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In Too Afraid to Ask, we’re answering food-related questions that may or may not give you goosebumps. Today: Are sprouted potatoes safe to eat?

Are your potatoes displaying mysterious green spots? Growing tentacles that reach out to you every time you open the pantry? Known as sprouted potatoes, the phenomenon is all too common: You ambitiously purchased the XL bag of spuds, cooked through a few of our favorite potato recipes, then forgot about the remainder in the back of your pantry. Weeks later, you uncover something extraterrestrial-looking, staring back at you from that dark cupboard. Here’s if—and when—you should start to worry.

So, can you eat sprouted potatoes?

The short answer: It depends. When potatoes begin to sprout, the growths (those roots, eyes, and bumps) have a high concentration of compounds called glycoalkaloids that can cause a sharp, unpleasant, bitter taste. You’re not likely to see any ill effects from eating negligible amounts—in fact, one of those compounds, called solanine, is the same compound that occurs naturally in eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers (a class of plants known as nightshades). In large quantities, however, it can be toxic.

Large sprouts, growths, and roots will not only be unpleasant to eat, but, in the worst cases, can also make you really sick. Symptoms of poisoning from solanine (the specific type of natural toxin found in spoiled potatoes) include everything from a fever and headache to a severely upset stomach or abdominal pain. Needless to say, it’s worth going to the grocery store and buying some new potatoes.

If your otherwise good-looking potatoes have a few small sprouts, you can carefully remove them with a paring knife or the little loop on the end of your potato peeler (yes, that’s what it’s for). Make sure to really get in there and cut around the sprouted parts, excising any roots, bumps, and eyes. Then use the rest of the potato however you please—in ultra-silky, all-American mash, perfect baked potatoes, or crispy-creamy Potatoes au Gratin.

But, if those spuds look like they’ve grown arms and legs and are ready to put up a fight—we’re talking super-long roots, potato eyes that look like they’re staring back at you, extensive growths that are reaching for the sun, it’s probably best to toss them.

What about potatoes with dark spots or green skins?

If you peel potatoes and find a few dark or discolored spots on the flesh, don’t sweat it—this is likely the result of bruising during transport, or concentrations of natural sugars. Just cut those little spots out (they’re not exactly cute) and proceed.

But let’s say you’ve got a sackful of green potatoes on your hands. Are they…okay? Well, that also depends. Potatoes that have been exposed to light will begin to produce chlorophyll (resulting in a green color) as well as solanine. If the green tint on your taters is light and mostly skin-deep, peel them well to remove the green parts and go forth. But if they’re starting to look like post-transformation Fiona, it’s time to pitch ‘em. Same goes for potatoes that have gone mushy or wrinkly—those are tell-tale signs of spoilage.

In summary: It’s probably not worth it to save a few tubers past their prime if they’re sprouted and/or green. Play it safe and throw out or compost any potatoes that are severely blighted and save yourself—and your stomach—from a rough time.

How to store potatoes to maximize shelf life:

The best way to keep potatoes from sprouting in the first place is to store them properly. Keep potatoes at room temperature in a dry, dark place—we recommend storing spuds in a breathable paper bag. Do not store raw potatoes in the refrigerator, which may cause parts of the potato to harden and cook unevenly.

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