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Klamath Basin farmers get rights to grow and market new purple potato

by | August 16, 2009
CORVALLIS, OR -- Klamath Basin Fresh Direct, an association of potato farmers along the Oregon-California border, has been awarded exclusive rights to grow and market a new purple fingerling developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and three Northwest universities.

The potato is called Purple Pelisse, named for an intense hue inside and out. The tuber is the first specialty spud that Oregon State University, the University of Idaho, Washington State University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have jointly made available for public consumption. It is called a specialty because it is not like a traditional potato with white flesh and brown skin, such as russets, commonly used for french fries.

Dan Chin, chairman of the association, said that his company was interested in the Purple Pelisse because it is looking to expand its color spectrum with a potato that it can grow on a small scale for a niche market. Klamath Basin Fresh Direct produces two potatoes: a red-skinned spud and a small, white- skinned variety.

"Right now, there's not a good purple fingerling on the market," Mr. Chin said in a press release. "But this one has good flavor and looks good. It fits the bill for what we think a consumer might want."

Mr. Chin said that Klamath Basin Fresh Direct, which beat four other bids, plans to market it as a potato that can be boiled, fried and roasted. The group plans to change the name of the potato, which it will grow organically and market to high-end supermarkets and restaurants in the United States. He hopes to eventually promote it overseas. In November, Mr. Chin will take it to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau and the Philippines as part of a trade mission with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The eye-catching potato, which takes its name from a cloak, is unusual because few purple fingerlings are available to the public, according to Isabel Vales, a potato breeder at OSU.

But the Purple Pelisse is more than just a rare breed. It also has three times greater potential to protect cells from damage caused by free radicals compared with the russet Burbank, according to a study conducted by Shelley Jansky, a research geneticist with the USDA.

Ms. Jansky stressed, however, that this ability depended on where and in what year the potatoes were grown. The new tater's possible health benefits come from antioxidants, which are mainly in the form of anthocyanin pigments and vitamin C. Anthocyanins cause the purple color and aren't found in brown-skinned, white-fleshed potatoes.

The Purple Pelisse will not be available in supermarkets or restaurants until at least the fall of 2011, since it will take that long to produce enough seed potatoes for commercial production.