Klamath Basin Fresh Direct, an association of potato farmers along the Oregon-California border, has been awarded exclusive rights to grow and market a new purple fingerling developed by the USDA and three Northwest universities.
The potato is called Purple Pelisse, named for an intense hue inside and out that looks like a color you'd find in a crayon box. The tuber is the first specialty spud that Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have jointly made available for public consumption. It's called a specialty because it's not like a traditional potato with white flesh and brown skin, such as Russets, commonly used for fries.
Dan Chin, chairman of the association, said his company was interested in the Purple Pelisse because it is looking to expand its color spectrum with a potato that it can grow on a small scale for a niche market. KBFD produces two potatoes: a red-skinned one and a small, white-skinned variety.
The eye-catching potato, which takes its name from a cloak, is unusual because few purple fingerlings are available to the public, said OSU potato breeder Isabel Vales. But it's more than just a rare breed. It also has three times greater potential to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals compared with the Russet Burbank, according to a study by Shelley Jansky, a research geneticist with the USDA. Jansky stressed, however, that this ability depended on where and in what year the potatoes were grown. The new tater's possible health benefits come from antioxidants, which are mainly in the form of anthocyanin pigments and vitamin C. Anthocyanins cause the purple color and aren't found in brown-skinned, white-fleshed potatoes.
In an effort to give people more choices, the tri-state program plans to make public a red-skinned, red-fleshed fingerling and a yellow-skinned, yellow-fleshed round variety by the beginning of next year.