Image: Wikimedia Commons.
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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

I am a Botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international phytological organ for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I also continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience at Botany One. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. I'm happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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