Potatoes with higher levels of beneficial carotenoids are the result of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) studies to improve one of America's most popular vegetables.
Scientists with USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) bred yellow potatoes with carotenoid levels that are 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 Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. Haynes works in the Genetic Improvement for Fruits and Vegetables Laboratory (GIFVL) and Clevidence works in the center's Food Components and Health Laboratory. They published their findings in the Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science.
ARS is USDA's principal intramural scientific research agency, and this research supports the USDA priority of promoting international food security.
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 her colleagues developed the high-carotenoid potatoes.
Several carotenoids are involved, including neoxanthin, antheraxanthin, violaxanthin, lutein and zeaxanthin. Among these, lutein and zeaxanthin, are of keen interest for eye health; they appear to protect against age-related macular degeneration and perhaps against cataract formation.