Potato industry looks to chipping varieties for new uses

By Vicky Boyd

The same characteristics that make chipping potato varieties better suited to chips than Russets also may make them suited to microwavable snacks.

That's the outcome of a study conducted by The Turover Straus Group, a Springfield, Mo., company that specializes in developing new food products. The findings were presented at the recent 2009 Potato Expo in San Antonio.

"One area where chipping potatoes outperformed Russets is in the microwave," says Tim Straus, chief marketing officer for the group.

He credited chipping varieties for having a smaller, rounder shape; higher solids; thinner skins; lower sugars and higher specific gravity than Russets.

Russets, frequently called baking potatoes, also are coveted as a french fry ingredient because of their frying characteristics.

The hot appetizer segment is currently dominated by products that contain chicken and/or cheese, and it's one of the fastest growing sectors in the grocery store, Straus says.

The few potato products in that category have to be cooked on special browning boards—an expensive form of packaging—to obtain a desirable crispy texture. Otherwise, they can be soggy or mushy.

But new products in the trial didn't need the browning board and yet still came out with a crisp texture. That means the consumer could grab a handful from a resealable bag, microwave them on a dinner plate for a few minutes and have a tasty potato-based snack or side dish, Straus says.

"Less packaging also means higher profitability for the processor and lower price and more flexibility for the consumer," Straus says.

The trial involved two products—a microwavable french fry and a microwavable potato wedge. They were made from a variety of nonproprietary chipping varieties.

A test panel of consumers were asked to try the products for one week and then report back on their opinions.

Families with children favored the fries, whereas families with just adults prefered the wedges, Straus says.

Straus says he plans to present the results to large potato processors this spring to try to capture their interest.

The study was funded by the Denver-based U.S. Potato Board's Innovation Program.