ABERDEEN, Idaho—With champagne- and rose-colored skin and yellow flesh, the specialty spud had the appearance of a winner. But would it pass the taste test?
With his plastic fork, Mike Thornton scooped out a small sample he described as glue-like in consistency. Upon tasting it, his expression revealed the verdict: "It's really attractive when it comes out of the ground, but it's not doing much for me with flavor," he told a group of tasters. "The texture alone is almost enough to take this one out of the program."
Feb. 28 at the Aberdeen Research and Extension Center, a group of expert tasters tested a dozen specialty potato breeding clones to determine which have the potential to be released as varieties. Most of the samples are under development in Aberdeen, but others came from Oregon, Colorado and North Dakota. The top candidates will be sampled in Prosser, Wash., for the Western Regional and Tri-State Potato Variety Trials.
Thornton, superintendent of the Parma Research and Extension Center, and Peggy Bain, a scientific aide in Aberdeen, have both undergone training for potato testing.
The group fried potatoes as chips and tried them baked, boiled and microwaved to determine how their taste, texture and appearance would hold up under various methods of preparation. Each sample was numbered and assigned a score.
Thornton expects at least three of the samples will be good enough for inclusion in the Prosser taste trials. A report will be sent to the Idaho Potato Commission describing the agronomic and culinary qualities of the samples deemed worthy of further development.
"You can have the best disease and pest resistance, but if it doesn't have the sensory attributes you're looking for you can use it as a breeding parent, but you're not going to advance it as a variety," said Aberdeen research geneticist Richard Novy.
Aside from a few proven varieties they sampled, such as Huckleberry Gold, which was developed and recently released from Aberdeen, a consistent top performer was A05201-1Y, a yellow-fleshed spud bred at Aberdeen from another Aberdeen breeding clone and a European variety.
Novy said potato breeders are placing growing emphasis on specialty varieties, which are becoming more popular within the industry, but the vast majority of attention remains on Russets.
"You've got yellow-skinned varieties and small purple varieties that are becoming more popular," Frank Muir, president and CEO of the Idaho Potato Commission, said. "Right now the trend we're seeing is more really upscale restaurants using a lot of these fingerling potatoes, but the good thing for us is they're not removing the Russets. They're adding varieties onto their menus."
SOURCE: John O'Connell, Capital Press