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“What makes potatoes start sprouting? Are they okay to eat?”

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If you’ve left a bag of potatoes sitting around for a while, you might have noticed them starting to grow green, white, or somewhat purple sprouts. That’s the potato trying to grow into a new plant.

The sprouts themselves, as well as any green part of the potato, are home to a toxic alkaloid called solanine and must be removed. Eating them will make you sick – the National Library of Medicine even has a page on their website devoted to potato plant poisoning [http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002875.htm] – though it would take quite a few to do it. The solanine gives the potato a bitter taste, so it wouldn’t be worth eating anyway.

As long as the sprouted potatoes are still firm and haven’t started to shrivel up, there’s no reason to throw them away. Once the sprouts and any green part of the potato have been removed, it’s safe to eat.

You can also plant your sprouted potatoes, though “The Vegetable Gardener’s Bible” by Edward C. Smith recommends using seed potatoes (which are available from garden supply stores and were grown for the express purpose of being planted) rather than supermarket potatoes for gardening.

To inhibit sprouting and keep your potatoes in their best condition, store them in a cool, dark, dry place with ample ventilation.

For more information on growing potatoes, check out “Food Grown Right, in Your Backyard” by Colin McCrate and Brad Halm, “Ortho’s Complete Guide to Vegetables,” or “The Year-Round Vegetable Gardener” by Niki Jabbour, available at Newton Falls Public Library. If you’re looking to learn about the potato’s history, Andrew F. Smith’s “Potato: A Global History,” John Reader’s “Potato: A History of the Propitious Esculent” and Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-eye View of the World” are all available through CLEVNET. For recipes, we have Kay Halsey’s “Potatoes” on the shelf here at Newton Falls. Or you could order Alex Barker’s  “Potato: The Definitive Guide to Potatoes and Potato Cooking” through CLEVNET and get information on potato cooking, gardening, and history.

For answers to your questions, visit the Newton Falls Public Library, 204 S. Canal Street, Newton Falls or phone 330-872-1282. For information about all the free library programs or hours, visit our website at www.newtonfalls.org or our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/NewtonFallsLibrary.