It's frustrating to discover that your potatoes have sprouted when you're in the middle of making dinner. Potatoes are safe to eat, even after they've sprouted, as long as they are still firm to the touch, don't look too wrinkly and shriveled, and the sprouts are small. There are, however, toxin concerns with potato sprouts, so you need to remove the sprouts and ensure that the potato isn't too far gone.
Most of the nutrients are still intact in a firm, sprouted potato. As a potato sprouts, it converts starch to sugar in order to feed the new potato plant that will grow from the erupting sprouts. At the beginning of this process, you may find soft spots around what used to be the eyes and are now the sprouts. Simply remove the sprouts and any soft spots, and your potato should be fine to use in a recipe.
What to Avoid
As the sprouting process progresses, the potato begins to shrivel, as more and more starch is converted to sugar and used in the growing sprouts. A wrinkled, shriveled, sprouted potato will have lost more of its nutrients, and it won't be very palatable. Avoid eating shriveled or wrinkled potatoes.
Solanine and chaconine, two types of natural toxins known as glycoalkaloids, are present in potato plants. They're most concentrated in the eyes, sprouts, and skin, but not the rest of the potato. These compounds are toxic to humans and can lead to a headache, vomiting, and other digestive symptoms. As long as you remove the eyes, sprouts, and skin, you're unlikely to feel any ill effects. Additionally, if your potato has green skin, be sure to peel it before you eat it.
Don't let this warning scare you off potatoes: You'd have to eat a lot of sprouts and green skins to make yourself sick.
How to Prevent Sprouting
It's essential to keep your potatoes in a cool, dry, and dark place if you're going to store them for a long time. Keep potatoes away from onions, which will cause them to sprout faster.
Commercial potato growers often treat their potatoes in various ways to keep them from sprouting. If you buy organic potatoes or grow your own, a few simple storage suggestions will extend the storage life of your potatoes by weeks or even months:
- If you like to buy potatoes in bulk or harvest your own each fall, be selective about the potato variety. Some potatoes store better and longer than others.
- As a general rule, dryer, late-harvest potatoes tend to keep best. Look for heirloom varieties that have a long-proven reputation as good keepers.
- Homegrown potatoes need to be dried out (or cured) outdoors before they're suitable for long-term storage. If you skip this simple but important step, they won't keep as long as they're supposed to.
- While it may seem obvious, damaged potatoes won't keep well, either. Store good-quality potatoes properly, and they'll be less likely to go bad or sprout prematurely.