Electric Shock Treatment Gives Potatoes a New Lease on Life

Do potatoes have feelings? Who cares, if science can make them healthier.


The simple potato, maligned for so long by health campaigners but loved by pretty much everyone who doesn’t have to look good in nude scenes, may just be reincarnated as a superfood. It does, however, involve a little bit of physical enhancement: electric shock treatment. Scientists at this weekend’s American Chemical Society conference in Boston have come up with two ways to boost the common spud’s health qualities.

Subjecting the tuber to either electricity or ultrasound for anything between five and 30 minutes boosts its antioxidant qualities by up to 50%, claims an academic from a Japanese university. Kazunori Hironaka, a Ph.D. in charge of the research, at Obihiro University in Hokkaido, reckons it could join its vegetable (and fruity) relations as helping prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.

“Treating the potatoes … increased the amounts of antioxidants including phenols and chlorogenic acid by as much as 50%,” he said. “We knew from research done in the past that drought, bruising, and other stresses could stimulate the accumulation of beneficial phenolic compounds in fresh produce. We found that there hasn’t been any research on the healthful effects of using mechanical processes to stress vegetables. So we decided in this study to evaluate the effect of ultrasound and other electric treatments on polyphenols and other antioxidants in potatoes.”

The Potato Council was also summoned for a quote on the findings. “There are other examples of ultrasound being used experimentally in food manufacture,” said a spokespotato, pointing out that spuds with colored flesh, such as purple potatoes, enjoyed a higher level of antioxidants. “Perhaps there could be some potential to apply it to boosting antioxidants in potatoes.”

While the potato is never going to be a superfood, unlike its sorta-relations, the sweet potato, or Brazil nuts, acai berries, and so on, zapped spuds may well become a healthier alternative to untreated ones, which contain vitamins C, B1 and B6, and folate. Their status as one of the most carb-friendly food sources, however, will never be unchanged.

[Old Sparky image courtesy of Tim Menzies’ Flickrstream]

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.