Wednesday, 9 January 2008

A Nice Green Leaf: International Year of the Potato 2


A breaking story just in to the Potato News Desk... Bee Wilson's new book, Swindled: From Poisoned Sweets to Counterfeit Coffee, currently being read on Radio 4, introduces the new science of food DNA profiling. Environmental health officers and their equivalents the world over are turning to brand-new methods of sniffing out dodgy fruit and veg, according to the Authenticity Unit at the British Standards Agency.

"Authentic" food just means that the food is exactly what it says on the label - nothing else. And some of the most inauthentic food we eat turns out to be the humble spud. We will pay a substantial premium for named food varieties these days, whether it be Aberdeen Angus beef or Egremont Russet apples. In a study reported by Wilson, 294 samples of so-called King Edward Potatoes were tested against the known DNA profile of a genuine example of Britain's
favourite spud. 33% were mislabelled, and 17% were not King Edwards at all. Many were actually Ambo, a similar, modern variety of floury potato, which has more disease-resistance and which is therefore easier to grow.

However the two don't actually look all that similar, as a quick consultation of the European Cultivated Potato Database will confirm. Is it a bit depressing that we don't even know what the food we buy is meant to look like?

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