When left in storage for too long, potatoes can begin to sprout, creating debate as to whether eating them is safe.
Some consider sprouted potatoes perfectly safe to eat, as long as you remove the sprouts. Yet many others also warn that sprouted potatoes are toxic and cause food poisoning — and potentially even death.
This article reviews the research to determine whether eating sprouted potatoes is safe.
Why sprouted potatoes may be dangerous to eat
Potatoes are a natural source of solanine and chaconine, glycoalkaloid compounds naturally found in various other foods, including eggplants and tomatoes.
In tiny amounts, glycoalkaloids may offer health benefits, including antibiotic properties and blood-sugar- and cholesterol-lowering effects. However, they can become toxic when eaten in excess.
As potato sprouts, its glycoalkaloid content begins to rise. Therefore, eating potatoes that have sprouted can cause you to ingest excessive amounts of these compounds. Symptoms typically appear within a few hours to up to 1 day after eating the sprouted potatoes.
At lower doses, excess glycoalkaloid consumption typically leads to vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. When consumed in larger amounts, they can cause low blood pressure, a rapid pulse, fever, headaches, confusion, and in some cases, even death.
A few small studies suggest that eating sprouted potatoes during pregnancy may increase the risk of birth defects. Therefore, pregnant women may particularly benefit from avoiding sprouted potatoes.
Summary: Sprouted potatoes contain higher levels of glycoalkaloids, which can have toxic effects in humans when consumed in excess. Eating sprouted potatoes during pregnancy may also increase the risk of birth defects.
Can you remove toxic compounds from sprouted potatoes?
Glycoalkaloids are especially concentrated in a potato’s leaves, flowers, eyes, and sprouts. In addition to sprouting, physical damage, greening, and a bitter taste are three signs that a potato’s glycoalkaloid content may have risen dramatically.
Hence, discarding the sprouts, eyes, green skin, and bruised parts may help reduce your risk of toxicity. Furthermore, peeling and frying may help reduce glycoalkaloid levels — although boiling, baking, and microwaving appear to have little effect.
That said, it’s currently unclear whether these practices are sufficient to adequately and consistently protect you from glycoalkaloid toxicity.
For this reason, the National Capital Poison Center — also known as Poison Control — suggests it may be best to toss potatoes that have sprouted or turned green.
Summary: Discarding the sprouts, eyes, green skin, and bruised parts of potato, as well as frying it, may help reduce glycoalkaloid levels, but more research is needed. Until then, discarding sprouted or green potatoes may be the safest thing to do.
How to keep potatoes from sprouting
One of the best ways to reduce sprouting in potatoes is to avoid stockpiling them and only buy them when you have plans to use them.
In addition, discarding damaged potatoes and ensuring that the remaining ones are dry before storing them in a cool, dry, dark place may also reduce the likelihood of sprouting.
Anecdotal reports suggest that storing potatoes with onions should also be avoided, as putting the two together may accelerate sprouting. Although, no scientific evidence to support this practice.
Suggested read: What's the best way to store potatoes?
Summary: Storing intact, dry potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place can help reduce the likelihood of sprouting. It’s best to avoid stockpiling potatoes, and you may want to store them away from onions.
Sprouted potatoes contain higher levels of glycoalkaloids, which can be toxic to humans when eaten in excess.
Health problems linked to eating sprouted potatoes range from stomach upset to heart and nervous system problems, and, in severe cases, even death. They may also increase the risk of birth defects.
While you may be able to reduce glycoalkaloid levels in sprouted potatoes through peeling, frying, or removing the sprouts, it’s unclear whether these methods are sufficient to protect you from toxicity.
Until more is known, it’s likely safest to avoid eating sprouted potatoes altogether.