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The humble potato? There's no such thing, says Karen Cannard




I’ve come to the conclusion that the vegetable that we often regard as the humble potato is not really that humble at all.

Across the country, spuds are turned into chips or are mashed, boiled, baked and roasted. For an added flourish, they make great pie toppers. And there’s always potato gnocchi, rosti or pancakes to bring a touch of European cuisine to the kitchen table. Warm and comforting in hearty winter stews, they’re also cool and refreshing to the bite in the simplest of summer salads. Even potato peelings can be easily baked into homemade crisps.

With so much going for it, it’s time for the potato to ditch its modesty and wear the crown of culinary curiosity.

Potatoes - a great all-rounder (44086227)
Potatoes - a great all-rounder (44086227)

It might come as a surprise then that the potato is one of the top 10 most wasted foods in the UK with issues in the supply chain and on the home front.Growers and retailers have found ways to reroute surplus spuds to food redistribution charities such as FareShare and food banks. However, the versatility of the potato has also found itself at the heart of innovation with an increasing range of solutions not just for surplus stock but for production waste, too.

Solutions can be as simple as supermarket giants, such as Tesco, introducing their potato growers to suppliers of prepared foods to open up new markets for‘visually imperfect’ potatoes. Other industries that have sprouted up include Vodka distilleries, offering a highly spirited solution for regular surplus potatoes or for spuds that are remarkably deemed ‘too ugly’ for supermarkets to sell.

When it comes to tackling production waste, new markets have also been created for potato byproducts, helping to solve other environmental issues.

For instance, the next time a magazine or other direct mail lands on your doorstep, check its wrapper. Increasingly, these are no longer made from plastic but a starch-based compound, often from potatoes, which can go straight into your home-composter instead of your rubbish bin.

Even the glue in the ubiquitous Pritt Stick is now made from potato starch instead of petroleum-based PVP. Henkel, Pritt Stick’s manufacturer, also uses a modified starch, a byproduct of the crisp and chip processing industry, to create its wallpaper adhesive Solvite.

It is likely that we will see other products coming our way in the not too distant future. For example, London designers Rowan Minkley and Robert Nicoll have already turned potato peelings into a prototype construction board called Chip[s] Board, an alternative to MDF or chipboard.They have also partnered with McCain, producer of ready-made chips, as their supplier of raw materials for bioplastics product development projects that include eyewear and buttons.

Elsewhere, Walkers Crisps has signed a deal to turn its potato waste from its Leicester factory into fertiliser for UK potato farmers plus electricity for its manufacturing processes. When running at full scale, the fertiliser it is expected to reduce the company’s potato-based carbon emissions by 70%.

After these little nuggets, I don’t think I’ll ever take a potato for granted again.

We might not be in a position to turn the everyday leftover spud at home into an alternative plastic bag, glue stick or vodka but why would we, when the reason we buy potatoes is to eat them?Thankfully there’s lots of edible inspiration to avoid them ending up as food waste.

If you’re on the look out for new ideas, some great sites include www.lovepotatoes.co.uk and www.lovefoodhatewaste.com with recipes for curries, soups and tray-bakes, plus much more. And before you chuck out your potato peelings, check out this video from BBC Good Food: www.bbcgoodfood.com/videos/hacks/easiest-ever-potato-peeling-crisps-video. Of course, if crisps aren’t your thing, you could try home composting, throw in your potato peelings and use the compost to plant some spuds of your own.

In other food waste news, if you get enraged by ‘best-before’ labels, with shouts of ‘It’s still good to eat!’ you might be interested in Too Good to Go’s latest campaign ‘Look, Smell, Taste – Don’t Waste’, which has been designed to tackle label confusion and reduce waste. Find out more at https://toogoodtogo.co.uk/en-gb/campaign/commitment

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