Picture: Heritage Potatoes

The existence of potatoes have long been a staple diet for many cultures, being one of the more affordable carbohydrates to complete a meal. Even so, you may not be familiar with scarlet, purple or knobbly potatoes, but thanks to the current revival in tasty heritage varieties, you soon will be.

Far from being a cause for alarm, the unusual colours denote extra nutritional value. The purple skin of the arran victory, the scarlet flesh of the highland burgundy red and the inky stain running through the shetland black are natural pigmentation caused by compounds known as anthocyanins. These are powerful antioxidants which also have anti-inflammatory - and possibly even anti-cancer properties.

As well as the colours, heritage spuds offer a wide variety of tastes and textures. The slightly nutty ratte, for example - a 19th-century classic beloved by the French - is a favourite with chefs from double Michelin-starred Hélène Darroze at The Connaught in London down, and makes perfect mash. The red duke of york is a star all-rounder with a hint of sweetness that shines through whether roasted, baked or mashed. And the pink fir apple's knobbly exterior conceals a superb waxy flesh whose deep, earthy flavour works best simply boiled and either served hot, or cold in salads. The salad blue, conversely, doesn't make good salads as it's too floury - although it mashes and fries well. And in contrast with its striking appearance, it has a subtle flavour. Grant Hawthorne, one of Britain's representatives at last autumn's Slow Food festival in Turin, has introduced several varieties at his restaurant The Plough in Buckinghamshire. "Highland burgundy red have a wonderful flavour," he says. They also make great novelty chips.

Colourful potatoes should be an interesting addition to the dinner table, and although supermarkets are beginning to show interest in these heritage roots, you can plant them yourself too. Of course like any other vegetable planting, the potatoes need proper nurturing and you may experience pest problems at the early stage of planting.


The not so humble potato [Guardian]