Researchers find possible path to healthier fries and potato chips

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A healthier and tastier French fry and potato chip may be on the horizon.

Researchers at Michigan State University say they’ve discovered a gene that forces potatoes to convert starch into sugar when they’re growing in cold weather conditions.

The researchers explained their findings, published in the journal The Plant Cell, show how potatoes can be held at cold temperatures and still be used for a possibly healthier chip or fry.

Once potatoes are harvested, they’re often kept in cold storage systems. The cold is used to keep the root vegetable from sprouting or spoiling has an unintended consequence, it triggers a gene that changes starch into sugar.

That process is called “cold induced sweetening” or CIS.

“We’ve identified the specific gene responsible for CIS and, more importantly, we’ve uncovered the regulatory element that switches it on under cold temperatures,” Jiming Jiang, professor in MSU’s departments of Horticulture and Plant Biology, said in a press release. “This discovery represents a significant advancement in our understanding of potato development and its implications for food quality and health. It has the potential to affect every single bag of potato chips around the world.”

Potatoes with higher sugar contents, when processed, can cause darkened fries and chips, researchers note. It can also generate the carcinogenic compound acrylamide.

According to the FDA, which monitors levels of acrylamide in certain foods, high levels of the substance have been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. However, the agency said the acrylamide used in those studies “were much greater than those found in human food” and “there is no consistent epidemiological evidence on the effect of acrylamide from food consumption on cancer in humans.”

The research could be used to develop potato varieties that can better be stored in cold temperatures without forming CIS or acrylamide, potentially leading to “healthier and tastier chips and fries.”

Jiang said he believes the new CIS-resistant potato gene could be commercially available in the near future. It’s also possible that the newest research could carry over to other processed starchy foods.

“This discovery represents a significant advancement in our understanding of potato development and its implications for food quality and health,” said Jiang, “It has the potential to affect every single bag of potato chips around the world.”

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