When I first discovered the colorful purple potatoes in the grocery store, I couldn’t help being a bit skeptical.
Were they genetically modified — part of some new GMO brand I hadn’t heard of?
I was so used to seeing the basic, light-brown tubers that we all know so well.
With their extremely vibrant colors, these beauties, however, almost looked more like a tropical fruit than a humble spud.
I bought what I came for and left the store.
Still, in the back of my mind, a seed of curiosity had been planted.
Digging For Answers — Purple Potatoes’ Origin
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Soon after getting home, I sent a message to my botanical nerd friend, Kate.
“So, what are these and where do they come from?”
I then attached a picture I’d snapped of the mysterious taters while I was in the store.
Kate (excited about anything plant-related, as usual) then gave me the lowdown.
South American Scurvy Cure
It turns out that these purple (sometimes deep-blue) potatoes are actually from Peru and Bolivia in South America.
They are grown alongside different colored potatoes, and there are many breeds with varying shades — such as Purple Peruvian, Purple Majesty and Purple Viking.
Purple potatoes were first transported to Europe in the 1500’s, when Spanish sailors realized they could be used to cure scurvy (due to their high vitamin C content).
However, they weren’t properly introduced to the U.S. market before the 1980’s, when L.A. health nuts (I say that lovingly) started demanding more of them.
Today, they can be found for sale all over North and South America, as well as in some parts of Europe – mostly in farmers’ markets and health food stores.
Why Are They Purple?
The striking coloring of the potatoes is not some nasty GMO trick.
Their deep-purple coloring actually comes from all the antioxidants they contain.
Specifically, they have a lot of anthocyanins, which are also found in other plant foods like blueberry, raspberry and black soybeans.
So, are purple potatoes natural?
There’s nothing unnatural about them.
In fact, not only are they natural, but they’re really good for you as well.
Are Purple Potatoes Better For You?
With the exotic coloring of these tubers, you may think that the average Russet potato falls short in comparison.
However, if you compare the nutritional profiles, they’re actually very similar.
Half a cup (170 g) of purple potatoes will give you about:
- 70 calories
- 15 grams of carbs
- 2 grams of protein
- 0 fat.
While half a cup of Russet potatoes contains:
- 65 calories
- 16 carbs
- 1 gram of protein
- 0 fat.
The real difference is found in the antioxidant levels:
The purple variants have 3-4 times more than your standard potatoes!
As you probably know, antioxidants are known to fight free radicals in your body.
This may prevent oxidative stress caused by things like fried foods and alcohol, as well as slowing the rate of aging (especially when it comes to your skin).
Potential Health Benefits
Not impressed with the antioxidant levels alone?
Check out these 5 other health benefits of purple potatoes:
1. Lowers Your Blood Pressure
A study presented by the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that purple potatoes can help regulate your blood pressure.
The research was done on 18 overweight people with high blood pressure.
Participants were told to eat 6-8 small purple potatoes (golf ball-sized) twice every day — including the skin.
The potatoes were cooked in a microwave oven, without any added oils.
One month later, when the study ended, the results were striking:
♦ The systolic (the higher number in a blood pressure test) had dropped by an average of 3.5 %.
♦ Diastolic (the lower number) dropped by 4.3%.
Pretty amazing, right?
But it gets even better:
14 of the 18 participants were already taking blood pressure medication, and even they experienced a lowering of their levels!
The scientists noted that the effects purple potatoes had on blood pressure was very similar to that of oatmeal.
So, if you want a healthy cardiovascular system, consider adding some color to your dinner plate.
2. May Prevent Dangerous Blood Clots
Irregular blood clotting, medically named Thrombosis, can cause serious health problems.
Purple potatoes contain a substance called chlorogenic acid.
This particular acid has been known to delay and break down dangerous blood clots in the body.
Because of this, the colorful spuds may be beneficial in preventing scary, and potentially fatal, health issues like strokes.
3. Can Strengthen Your Bones
Purple potatoes are rich in potassium.
In fact, only 100 grams will give you 13% of your daily recommended value.
Why is this important?
Well, among other things, healthy potassium levels have been linked to increased bone density.
One of the ways it achieves this is by neutralizing specific acids in the body.
This results in better preservation of calcium stores in your body, making sure your bones have an ample supply to draw from.
4. Promotes Brain Health
Purple potatoes are chock-full of vitamin B6.
100 grams of potato will give you around 0.2 mg, which is 9% of the RDV.
This vitamin helps your body produce hemoglobin.
Hemoglobin is the component of your blood that carries oxygen to your organs, including the brain.
When our hemoglobin levels are low, we can feel fatigued, dizzy and forgetful.
Some studies have shown that B6 (along with other B vitamins) can reduce the cognitive decline related to aging.
The vitamin is also critical for your body’s production of melatonin, which helps regulate your sleep via your internal clock.
It’s important to mention that B6 is water-soluble.
This means that any excess amounts are flushed out of your body when you urinate.
Because of this, your body can’t store B6 for future needs, so you’ll need to consume it on a regular basis.
Purple potatoes could definitely help you with that.
5. Boosts Immune Function
The violet wonders are also a good source of copper — 100g will give you about 7% of your daily needs.
This trace mineral is vital for your immune system to function properly.
Too much copper is actually toxic to all kinds of cells.
However, unless you overdo it with supplements, your body knows how to handle it.
Because of the potential toxicity of copper, your body can use it to eliminate invading bacteria.
When copper stores are low, this becomes much harder to do.
Make sure your immune system stays healthy and strong by chowing down some purple taters every now and again.
What Do Purple Potatoes Taste Like?
Boosting brain health, lowering blood pressure — all well and good.
But what do they taste like?
If you’re expecting some exotic flavor that will leave your taste buds in awe — sorry, not going to happen.
Despite their vibrant colors, purple potatoes taste very much like regular ones:
Earthy and slightly nutty.
I will say, though, that I noticed a very faint sweet taste as well — maybe sweeter than regular spuds.
However, that may just have been my mind playing tricks on me, because of the grape-like coloring (more taste testing is definitely needed).
Either way, they won’t be revolutionary if you’re used to eating white or red potatoes.
That may be a good or bad thing, depending on your tastes.
Boiling It Down
So, what have we learned?
Despite their vivid colors, purple potatoes contain about the same amount of nutrients as most regular potatoes, except for the higher antioxidant levels.
This could result in some added health benefits, like improved skin health and delayed aging.
As a bonus, they look really extravagant in all of their “purpleness”.
These lively tubers are now becoming more commonplace in health food stores and farmers’ markets.
If you come across these special tubers in the stands, consider bringing some home with you.