RESEARCH EYES NEW POTATO MARKETS

Published online: Sep 09, 2011 Potato Storage, Potato Harvesting, Seed Potatoes
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MOSCOW, Idaho-A University of Idaho researcher is teaming up with J.R. Simplot Co.'s food group to develop new potato products with resistant starch, which can improve digestive health and benefit people with diabetes.

Resistant starch is modified starch that bypasses digestion in the small intestine.

If successful, the project could open new markets that are currently inaccessible to growers and processors, said UI professor Kerry Huber, who is leading the research into potato-based resistant starch ingredients.

Huber is focusing his research on dehydrated potato products such as flakes and granules, which as currently produced have only low levels of resistant starch.

"We are trying to develop similar or equivalent products with resistant starch characteristics," said Huber, a professor of food science in UI's College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

Starch in cooked potatoes is normally digested quickly and enter the blood stream as glucose. Resistant starch products can benefit diabetics because they cause a much slower blood sugar increase.

A type of dietary fiber, resistant starch also has digestive health benefits and is associated with good colonic health. It has also been linked with lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

"There is a digestive health benefit with these products as well as lower glucose levels relative to normal potato products," Huber said.

Huber said potatoes are often used as the poster child for high glycemic foods and modifying potato starch could lead to several new market opportunities for growers and processors.

"There is mounting evidence that high-glycemic response may be linked with potentially chronic diseases," Huber said. "If that evidence continues to mount, then I think the market will continue to grow."

Huber has successfully created resistant starch within dehydrated potato products in the laboratory and the next step is for industry to use his research to create marketable products.

He recently received a $50,000 grant from the Idaho State Board of Education's Higher Education Research Council to help bridge the gap between the research phase and commercialization.

That's where Simplot comes in. Using Huber's research, the company will create prototype products and test them with consumers, said Steve Vernon, vice president of quality and innovation for Simplot's food group.

He said the company needs to first determine "what kind of products can be made with this and then get it out in front of customers to see what the market for it is."

He said it's too early in the process to discuss the potential of this technology but he did say it is promising, and he thinks it could prove useful beyond just potato granules and flakes.

"On the concept side, I like his thinking," Vernon said of Huber's research. "I wouldn't limit the potential of the idea."

-Source, Sean Ellis, Capital Press

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