Purple spud will put you in the pink

THEY have remained an unchanging staple of the British diet for generations with hardly a nod to more health-conscious consumers.

But scientists may now have come up with the perfect chip, which not only tastes good, but could prolong your life. The only downside is that it is purple.

Highly pigmented purple spuds with health properties are currently being developed by plant scientists at the Scottish Crop Research Institute (SCRI) in Perthshire along with US researchers.

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The new tattie – based on a variety called Purple Majesty – will be rich in the antioxidants that protect the body against a range of conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

And as they have been developed from naturally occurring purple potato varieties, developers believe they will be more acceptable to consumers than genetically modified versions.

Dr Mark Taylor, senior researcher at the Scottish Crop Research Institute near Dundee, said: "Yes, they will look unusual with their purple skins and purple flesh. There is a question about whether people will eat them or not, but if we can convince people they are good for you, then why not?"

Purple and blue-skinned foods, such as grapes, plums, aubergines and blueberries, are known to be rich in anthocyanin pigments that have the antioxidant effect.

Purple foods are also believed to have anti-ageing benefits as they help to prevent the breakdown of skin collagen and slow the wasting of muscles.

A team at the Potato Research Institute of Colorado State University began experimenting with naturally occurring wild potato varieties from South America in 2000.

They are now collaborating with the SCRI to identify the genes that give purple foods their health-related properties. The gene can then be incorporated into varieties that can be grown in cooler climates in commercial quantities.

Cecil Stushnoff, professor of horticulture and head of the research programme in Colorado, said that although cooking tended to destroy vitamins in potatoes, the evidence suggested that pigment levels were unaffected.

"Microwaving is best, but even frying seems to be OK. That means we could end up with healthier chips."

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