Scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) bred yellow potatoes with carotenoid levels two to three times higher than those of the popular Yukon Gold yellow-fleshed potato variety. ARS plant geneticist Kathy Haynes and nutritionist Beverly Clevidence did the research at the agency’s Beltsville, Md. center. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.
Haynes found wild potatoes with intense yellow flesh that have about 23 times more carotenoids than white-flesh potatoes. By crossing these wild potatoes with cultivated types, Haynes and colleagues developed the high-carotenoid potatoes. In 2007, Haynes and colleagues introduced a new potato named Peter Wilcox that they developed. The potato, which has purple skin and yellow flesh, has become popular in niche roadside markets. The overall carotenoid levels in this potato are more than 15 percent higher than those in Yukon Gold, according to Haynes.
Several carotenoids are involved, including neoxanthin, antheraxanthin, violaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. Among these, lutein and zeaxanthin, are of interest for eye health; they appear to protect against age-related macular degeneration and perhaps against cataract formation.