Is potato the new (cheap) white starch?

Prices for the big carbohydrate commodities -- wheat, corn, rice -- have all exploded. But one starch remains relatively cheap: the potato. That's why the U.N. and agriculture scientists are starting to push the potato as the new cheap starch for the masses. Happy International Year of the Potato, everyone!

Potatoes have remained largely immune from the world commodity bubble. Partly, according to Popular Science Magazine, that's because they rot and don't ship so well. But there's still potato flour. Potatoes used to be mainly grown in developed countries, over the last few decades they've been catching on around the world. About one-third of all potatoes are grown in China or India.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, we treated the potato like a vegetable in our nutrition classes. Realizing that wasn't quite true was a tremendous blow and disillusionment, like realizing there isn't a Santa. But Peru's International Center for the Potato is hopeful the potato could be the answer to the developing world's food. Potatoes have lots of carbs, protein, fiber and vitamins -- especially if boiled with the skins on.Peru has the International Center for the Potato because that's where the potato got its start. The New York Times had an amusing storySunday on a feud between Peru and Chile over where the potato started. Not that you asked, but I'm going with Peru on this one. I got to go to Peru for a wedding a few years ago and also visited the equivalent of a county fair.

My God, the Peruvians know their potatoes. They had displays of hundreds of varieties and say they've produced thousands.

The Potato Center hosted a conference this year to improve potato production in the developing world, where farmers get only half the yield. For people struggling on a budget in developing countries, it's easy to see how the potato could make a huge difference. Maybe cash-strapped consumers here can try the same thing with meals built around the potato instead of bread or pasta or rice. Plus, the expensive grains we don't eat may help drive down demand and prices.
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