Potatoes Are Secretly Very, Very Poisonous

Potatoes Are Secretly Very, Very Poisonous

A whole lot of common plants are closely related and contain a poison called solanine. The family is called nightshade, and you might have heard of the famously poisonous plant called deadly nightshade (from mystery novels, or from textbooks on witchcraft). The genus also includes tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes.

While those foods are edible, the other parts of their plants have poison in them, and the potato plant is especially poisonous. The roots of the potato? Poisonous. The leaves? Also poisonous. The fruits? Believe it or not, poisonous as well — the part we eat isn’t the fruit but the tuber, and if you leave a potato around long enough, it may sprout a berry that’s poisonous. That tuber, where the plant stores its starch, is the only edible part, and our ancestors went through a lot of painful trial-and-error before realizing that.

And even then, the potato tuber contains some solanine, and in the right conditions (or wrong conditions), it’ll produce much more. A potato left in sunlight will turn green, indicating a healthy and developing plant and also revealing that it’s starting to crank out the nerve toxin known as solanine.

Common sense might tell you not to eat a potato that’s turned green. But common sense wasn’t enough to save a fair number of people over the years who managed to poison themselves eating this otherwise innocuous food. 

One poison potato case hit 170 kids and teachers at a Canadian school. Another case at a British school hit 80, leaving some kids convulsing and hallucinating, though they later recovered. During the Korean War, hundreds in North Korea got sick and at least 22 died from eating poison potatoes — you have to be pretty hungry before eating enough rotting potato for the solanine to kill you, but it’s possible. Note that boiling potatoes, mashing them or sticking them in a stew will not save you from the poison either. Cooking may kill germs, but it doesn’t break down the toxin. 

So keep your potatoes in a dark cool cupboard, instead of, say, leaving them on your roof and then cooking them when they start to mutate. In fact, just to be safe, consider only eating potatoes once they’ve been commercially prepared, sliced, fried, covered in barbecue seasoning and sealed in a plastic bag labeled “Lay’s.”

For more tater thoughts, check out:

Potatoes Were Pig Feed, Till We Learned How To Cook Them

7 Great Foods (That Were Created Thanks to Dick Moves)

A Japanese Submarine Is Sunk with Potatoes

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