Ron Sylvester / Las Vegas Sun
Friday, Jan. 11, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Some of the hardest items to find on the trade floor at this year's Potato Expo are potatoes.
There are machines to sort them and clean them, chemicals to fertilize them and seeds to start them. But of the 149 exhibitors this week at Caesars Palace, only a few displays actually feature the potatoes themselves. Some varieties are so new they haven't been named yet. They are bred specifically for various preparations. There are potatoes that fry up better for french fries or slice better for chips. There are bakers and roasters and mashers.
While not plentiful on the show floor, people elsewhere can't get enough potatoes. A recent survey shows 76 percent of Americans say they eat potatoes once a week and 43 percent say they expect to eat more next year.
"Potatoes go with almost every flavor you can think of," said Maeve Webster, director of Datassential, a food marketing firm that conducted the research with Bayer CropScience. "But there is very little innovation happening with finding new ways to serve them."
More restaurants are finding popularity in sweet potatoes and tater tots, Webster said, and the biggest growth area expected next year is as a pizza topping.
"They are so used to eating them that if you give them the opportunities to have it in new ways, they will try them," Webster said.
We did find some potatoes on the showroom floor. Here are some of the new varieties of spuds headed to a plate or produce bin near you:
High in antioxidants, these purple ones make a great colorful blend when roasted and mixed with white and yellow potatoes.
"They also taste great just by themselves," said Aron Derbidge of SunRain Potato Varieties of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
When cut open, the flesh is purple with streaks of white.
Yellow is this year's stylish color for the potato field.
"Everyone is looking for new varieties of yellow potatoes because of their health benefits," said Ludwig Reicheneder of Rockyview Elite Tuber, a grower in Alberta, Canada.
With names like Romance and Capri, these potatoes are high in antioxidants and lutein, which people take as nutritional supplements for benefits to eyesight and skin.
These potatoes are currently being cultivated. It takes years for potatoes to move from seed to greenhouse to producing the kind of crop where they can be sold in mass quantities.
As the name would suggest, Rodeo is among potatoes marketed to sustain extreme temperatures and adapt to different climates. Real Potatoes of Cornwall, Pa., says they are also drought tolerant — something Ireland could have used in the 18th century. They're red on the outside, yellow on the inside.
Potatoes for chips
Yes, there are potatoes cultivated especially for chips, like this one from the University of Maine. So new it has only a code instead of name, it has thin skin for easy peeling and a round appearance for slicing more perfect potato chips.
Colorado may not be famous for potatoes, but it harvested more than 200 varieties last year. More than 80,000 different kinds of potatoes are developed each year at Colorado State University. Of those, about 50 are keepers, said Preston Stanley of the Colorado Certified Potato Growers Association. They carry names like Mountain Rose, a red potato, and Purple Majesty. Stanley's favorite is called Latona (above).
"It's the best-tasting potato I've ever had, and one of our growers owns it," Stanley said. "You put it in your mouth and your taste buds just explode. Then you feel a little drool run down the sides of your mouth. It's that good."