Following the January debut of the first low-carb potato that’s now a popular item in supermarkets, University of Florida researchers say a larger and tastier version of the spud will be available to consumers in May of this year.
Like the original low-carb potato, the new variety will have 30 percent fewer carbohydrates and 25 percent fewer calories than a standard Russet Burbank potato. The main difference is that the new tubers will have yellow flesh instead of white flesh, said Chad Hutchinson, an assistant professor of horticulture with UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. The yellow flesh gives the potato a slightly sweeter flavor.
He said 3½ ounces of each potato contain about 13 grams of carbohydrate compared to around 19 grams in the same serving size of a Russet baking potato.
“The addition of a new, larger potato with a different taste will give consumers more choices,” he said. “Our first low-carb potato, which is now being marketed as SunLite, has a white flesh and weighs anywhere from 4 to 6 ounces. The new spud, to be marketed as SunLite Gold, weighs anywhere from 6 to 10 ounces.”
Hutchinson said another major advantage for both low-carb spuds is that they are harvested and marketed as fresh, gourmet potatoes – unlike other potatoes that are stored up to 10 months before they reach the consumer.
“When we announced the first low-carb potato in June 2004, some people in the potato industry were concerned that our new variety would steal market share from traditional brands, but we’re trying to expand the overall market by bringing people that have concerns over diet back to potatoes,” he said.
“I like to consider these as ‘health-enhanced’ varieties,” Hutchinson said. “By making a simple change, everyone can take advantage of the health benefits of these potatoes without making any sacrifices in taste or cooking quality.”
While some people say consumer interest in low-carb foods may be waning, Hutchinson said potatoes can be part of a healthy diet. They contain no fat or cholesterol, and they are good sources of fiber, protein and vitamins. They also contain vitamins C and B-6, and they are low in sodium and high in potassium. And, potato skins are an excellent source of fiber.
He said both low-carb potatoes have been thoroughly tested in UF research plots near Hastings, Fla., for the past five years, and the spud’s low-carbohydrate profile has been confirmed by research in Canada. UF is the first test site in the United States for the European potato imports, which were developed by HZPC, a seed company based in the Netherlands.
“The low-carb profile is due in part to lower specific gravity in the potatoes, which relates to the amount of starch in the tuber, compared to the more widely recognized Russet potato,” Hutchinson said. “The smooth, buff-colored skins on both low-carb potatoes make them an attractive alternative in many traditional potato recipes.”
To meet consumer demand for the new potatoes, which are now being grown on more than 2,500 acres in Florida, growers formed the SunFresh of Florida Marketing Cooperative Inc.
Wayne Smith, president of the cooperative in St. Augustine, said the goal is to grow low-carb potatoes in Florida, North Carolina and elsewhere so that consumers can have a year-round supply of fresh potatoes that have not been stored for long periods. So far, the main market for limited production has been in Florida and the east coast of the United States.
Smith said the new low-carb potatoes are driving a renaissance in the potato industry of northeast Florida. By next year, production of low-carb potatoes is expected to double.
Both SunLite and SunLite Gold are being marketed in a European-style package developed by Hank Whetstone, operations manager for the marketing cooperative. The plastic package, which includes high quality graphics, has a net that allows consumers to see the potatoes inside.
“Given a chance, the combination of taste, appearance and packaging will rejuvenate the potato segment in supermarkets,” Whetstone said. “It’s a jewel on the shelf.”
Don Northcott, marketing manager for HZPC Americas Corp. on Prince Edward Island, Canada, said the new varieties grow in a short period of time. The potatoes can be harvested in 65 to 75 days compared to more than 100 days for existing potato varieties grown in Florida. The shorter growing period will allow spring and fall crops to be produced for harvesting from January through June.
“These new varieties have a good tolerance to environmental stresses such as high temperatures or dry weather. In fact, under warm-weather conditions, these varieties develop an extremely attractive appearance in terms of brightness of skin and smooth appearance,” Northcott said.
He said the potato skins develop early, which enhances resistance to mechanical damage so the potatoes arrive on store shelves with minimal defects. The variety has some resistance to tuber greening, which increases store shelf life.
“The combination of good Florida soils, warm temperatures and experienced Florida growers is ideal for giving consumers in the United States and Canada a fresh flavor treat,” he said.