Mr. Potato Head goes under the knife

When I caught wind that potatoes were undergoing a makeover to be healthier and more appealing, my ears perked up. You see, I love potatoes, and they love me right back by adding extra padding, if you know what I mean.

There may be brighter days ahead for all of us potato lovers, since geneticists and the U.S. Potato Board are in cahoots to give our good old brown and white russet a new look.

Why? Money, of course.

For several decades now, taters have been getting a bad rap, mainly because of the carbs and they're frequently misunderstood as not being healthy.

Claiming otherwise, this contemporary band of tater altering scientists is working to dispel that myth by giving the veggie a whole new look.

This all came about after geneticists examined the makeup of yellow, blue and red potatoes in Peru, known as the original home of potatoes.

Scientists determined the pigments in South American tubers are really disease-fighting antioxidants that are good for us.

With the same pigments as blueberries and cranberries, affordable, accessible potatoes would be more economical. Besides, most people like potatoes anyway.

With growers hopping on the spud reinvention bandwagon, purple ones (think beets) are now popping up at farmers' markets here and there around the U.S.

Other varieties, like red-fleshed and red skinned, pink, black, multicolored and striped currently are being developed.

Not only are potatoes changing their stripes, they're changing shape, too. Fingerling taters, a sleek, elegant variety, make potatoes trendy for the first time since French fries hit the food scene.

With a whole new breed of colors, tastes and even textures in their arsenal, the potato brigade is working on spanking new products to convince the American public to consume more.

In reality, when spuds aren't fried or packed with sour cream, they are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and a good source of Vitamin B6, potassium, manganese and Vitamin C.

And at the rate they're going, grocery store potato offerings of the future will look more like today's apple and gourd sections with many varieties to choose from.

Although, if we end up falling in love with this new-age tater, we'll be late adopters. Great Britain, where exotic and tasty types are a hot menu item, has at least a decade over the U.S.

With all the hoopla over genetically altering this stalwart mainstay of our ancestors, I started thinking of other vegetables that could use a boost.

Take Brussels sprouts, please. With an appearance and a construction of cabbage, their leafy green makeup is supposed to be really good for us. But unless you drown them in butter, the bitter taste will kill you. Believe me, even if you gourmet-up that darn veggie, no matter how much roasting or sautéing, Brussels sprouts leave a lot to be desired.

So why not make them taste like beef gravy, pot roast or even ice cream.

Next is broccoli. That poor gangly side dish can't survive the menu without first baking it in eggs and cheese, smothering it in Hollandaise sauce or making broccoli cheese soup. Why not re-engineer it to taste like grilled burgers?

To support my proposals for unpopular veggies, take a look at what has happened to iceberg lettuce. Once upon a time, it was the only kind of supermarket greens we had to choose from. Today, all those homely heads bow in the shadows of leaf lettuce, Romaine, spinach, Swiss chard, endive and bags of salad mixes as the preferred fixings. With an already built in crunch, mess some with the gene code and make lettuce taste more like potato chips, and then see what happens. Well, maybe that's way over the top with too many potatoes.

For eons, mothers everywhere have used bribery and trickery to get their kids to eat their vegetables. Not a whole lot has changed. It's just that today the big wigs of business and science are backing Mom and taking it a step further by manipulating the nature of veggies into something that will be quite unrecognizable to most of us.

What's next? Pink, black and white peas that taste like Good 'N Plenty candy? Now, there's an idea!

2012 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email  boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at my-story-your-story@blogspot.com and find her on FaceBook.

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