If you’ve ever seen sprouted potatoes in your home, you’ve probably thought twice about eating them. After all, sprouts on potatoes are known as “eyes” for a reason: Those irregular tubes look just as creepy as peepers staring out in the dark.
But as we all know, just because food looks weird doesn’t necessarily mean anything’s wrong with it (brown spots on cauliflower, anyone?). So, what’s the deal with sprouted potatoes? And more importantly, are they still safe to eat? Here’s the short answer: It depends.
According to Best Food Facts, experts say the cause of sprouting in potatoes has to do with the hormones in the plant. As time goes on, the concentration of these hormones decreases in the spuds, which is what allows these potatoes to sprout. While this might sound strange, sprouting is actually a necessary part of nature; without it, potatoes on the farm or in the garden would not be able to reproduce any new plants. But is it OK for you to eat potatoes on your kitchen counter that are in this stage of life?
David Douches, PhD, who is the director of the Potato Breeding and Genetics Program at Michigan State University, told Best Food Facts that sprouted potatoes are safe to eat, but the sprouts themselves need to be removed and discarded because they’re not edible. It’s also worth keeping in mind that not all sprouted potatoes are created equal. Dr. Douches clarified: “If the potato is still in good shape and is firm, it is fine to prepare as usual and it still has most of its nutrients. But if the sprouts are long and the potato has shrunk and wrinkled, then it is best to throw it out.”
According to Michigan State University Extension, a good rule of thumb is that all small green spots or sprouts should be completely trimmed off before you boil, bake, or microwave a potato. If there’s anything more than small sprouts present on the spud, always toss the potato in the trash. And remember, don’t ever eat a green potato, regardless of whether it’s been trimmed or not. Medline Plus warns that eating green tubers or new sprouts on a potato could potentially put you at risk for potato plant poisoning. Who wants that?
Here’s the good news: It’s pretty easy to prevent potatoes from sprouting or turning green before you’re ready to eat them. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), one of the best things you can do to make potatoes last longer is to store them properly. Ideally, you want to store them in a cool, dark place (between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit) with good ventilation. If you do this properly, new potatoes should last for several weeks. However, if you end up leaving your potatoes in a spot where temperatures reach 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s a higher risk of seeing sprouting and shriveling sooner. So, those spuds should be used within a week for best results.