Current research in sweet potato…

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Although some way removed from the manic antics of an ambi­tious medic named Dr Frankenstein (the sort of Creationist who gives ‘Intelligent Design’ a bad name…) attempt­ing to reviv­ify a corpse with elec­tric shocks, Kazunori Hironaka et al. have increased the levels of pur­por­ted life-supporting poly­phen­ols in sweet potato by 60% using an elec­tric current.

Polyphenols have been much-promoted because of their poten­tial health bene­fits, par­tic­u­larly as anti-oxidants, so any method that increases their abund­ance in a food­stuff is of interest. But sweet potato (Ipomoea bata­tas) isn’t just any food­stuff; it has been ranked highest in nutri­tional value against a wide range of veget­ables, and even pro­claimed as the ‘uber tuber’. More than 95% of the global crop grows in devel­op­ing coun­tries (where it is the fifth most-important food), and where mal­nu­tri­tion is a ser­i­ous prob­lem; by many meas­ures, sweet potato is ‘big pota­toes’. Hence, there is con­sid­er­able interest in a way that can fur­ther increase the sweet potato’s role in reliev­ing hun­ger and improv­ing nutri­tion and health.

The elec­trical treat­ment appar­ently does not affect the vegetable’s fla­vour, and is inex­pens­ive and simple enough to be used on small farms or in food dis­tri­bu­tion centres. Hironaka is the same researcher who 2 years ago announced an increase in anti­ox­id­ant levels in ‘nor­mal’ potato (Solanum tuberosum) using ultra­sound (and elec­tric cur­rent). Truly, shocking!

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.