April 22, 2010

Am I poisoned? | Cute vegan shoes

I mentioned recently that I'd picked up a Borner V-Slicer mandoline at Goodwill for $2.99 to add to my growing collection of thrifted kitchenware, and used it to cut carrots for sushi. I actually enjoy cutting vegetables by hand, so I cut the rest of the sushi veggies with my santoku, putting the V- Slicer away for another day. That day arrived sooner than I thought it would, with a terrible urge to cut potatoes into shoestrings and fry them in a pan.

We always seem to buy potatoes and forget about them, so when I went for the bag, the poor taters were covered with big sprouting eyes. So are these things poisonous or not, and are the potatoes safe to eat if you cut off the sprouts? What about green spots? After much research, I found advice ranging from, "not poisonous at all" to "discard potatoes that are turning green or sprouting." Even Rachel Ray weighed in on the subject with a video assuring everyone that poisonous potato eyes and green spots are an urban legend. After reading everything I could find, I've come to the conclusion that neither sprouting potato eyes or green-tinged potatoes are good to eat. The green color, while not in itself toxic, is an indicator that the potato has increased its production of solanine and should be discarded. Special care should be taken if children will be eating the potatoes as they are more susceptible to toxins.

Wikipedia said this: "Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine. Solanine is also found in other plants in the family solanaceae, which includes such plants as the deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and tobacco (Nicotiana) as well as the potato, eggplant and tomato. This poison affects the nervous system causing weakness and confusion. These compounds, which protect the plant from its predators, are generally concentrated in its leaves, stems, sprouts, and fruits. Exposure to light, physical damage, and age increase glycoalkaloid content within the tuber; the highest concentrations occur just underneath the skin. Cooking at high temperatures (over 170 °C or 340 °F) partly destroys these."

"Glycoalkaloids may cause headaches, diarrhea, cramps and in severe cases coma and death; however, poisoning from potatoes occurs very rarely. Light exposure causes greening from chlorophyll synthesis, thus giving a visual clue as to areas of the tuber that may have become more toxic; however, this does not provide a definitive guide, as greening and glycoalkaloid accumulation can occur independently of each other. The U.S. National Toxicology Program suggests that the average American consumes at most 12.5 mg/day of solanine from potatoes (the toxic dose is actually several times this, depending on body weight). Dr. Douglas L. Holt, the State Extension Specialist for Food Safety at the University of Missouri, notes that no reported cases of potato-source solanine poisoning have occurred in the U.S. in the last 50 years, and most cases involved eating green potatoes or drinking potato-leaf tea."

I also found this: "Many plants contain small amounts of naturally occurring toxic chemicals. For example, two commonly eaten foods, the potato and the tomato, come from the nightshade family. The nightshade family is known to contain toxic compounds called alkaloids. The alkaloid in the potato is solanine. In the United States, healthy potatoes contain 1 to 5 milligrams of solanine per small potato. Under current FDA regulations, 20 milligrams of solanine per 100 grams (a small potato) can render it unfit to eat. Solanine is produced as the potato gets old or is exposed to light. So consumers should avoid potatoes that are old, sunburned (green under the skin) or spongy. Under these conditions, the solanine levels can increase sevenfold or more. Do not eat the potato eyes because they contain a high concentration of solanine. Toxic amounts of solanine can seriously affect the nervous system and have caused death." Source: Angela Fraser, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Food Safety Specialist, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina State University.

And I found similar advice on Snopes, my favorite myth-buster site, to discard potatoes with green eyes, sprouts or greenish skin.

But on Chow.com, an article by Roxanne Webber states what I always believed, that if you cut off the offending onion sprout or green part, you can eat the rest of the potato. "Potato sprouts are considered toxic due to their potentially high concentration of glycoalkaloids," says Dr. Nora Olsen, an associate extension professor and potato specialist at the University of Idaho.

“Potato alkaloids exert their toxic effects on the nervous system by interfering with the body’s ability to regulate acetylcholine, a chemical responsible for conducting nerve impulses,”
notes UC Davis vegetable specialist Marita Cantwell in the Perishables Handling Newsletter, Issue No. 87. She explains that the main types of glycoalkaloids found in potato sprouts are a-solanine and a-chaconine. “[S]ymptoms of solanine toxicity include headache, nausea, fatigue, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea,” she writes. Cooking is not believed to reduce levels of the compounds, but you can cut the sprouts off and still safely eat the potato."

It matters whether the potatoes were stored in the light. “Sprouts exposed to light can have two to four times more glycoalkaloids than nonexposed sprouts,” Olsen explains.

"A potato exposed to light, sprouted or unsprouted, may itself have an increased concentration of glycoalkaloids. If this is the case, the toxic area will turn green. Strangely, that green is not the poison itself but chlorophyll, which is harmless. The green color is, however, a good indicator that that part of the potato may contain higher levels of the poisonous compounds. As with the sprouts, Olsen explains, you can cut the green part off and eat the rest of the potato."

I cooked my elderly potatoes before reading any of the articles, and now I'm wondering if that was such a good idea. But, there doesn't seem to be absolute agreement on whether it's safe to eat potatoes after removing sprouts and green areas. My potatoes had sprouts, but not green skin or flesh, and they had been stored away from light. I carefully removed all traces of the sprouts, and put the potatoes through the small julienne attachment of the slicer. I also shredded half a large onion with the mandoline. If I were still at our house in Wisconsin and had access to my big old cast iron pan, I probably would have used that to fry the potatoes, but I ended up cooking my potatoes in the wok, which has become my all-purpose pan.

The wok was heated, and a couple of tablespoons of canola oil were added and swirled around to coat the cooking surface. Kalonji (black onion seeds) were sprinkled on the wok and the potato-onion mix was arranged in a thin layer on the bottom and sides of the wok. The potatoes were sprinkled with ground cumin and turmeric and left to cook. When the bottom was brown, the potatoes were flipped over for the second side to cook. When the potatoes were tender but crisp, they were finished with fresh ground pepper and a mild hickory-smoked salt.

I recommend making this with fresh, firm, sprout-free, not-green potatoes! I'm composting the rest of my bag because they're old and soft as well as sprouted, and after reading all this information, I've decided to be more cautious with my spuds. Do you use potatoes that have sprouted? Turned green?


Dividend time

Now that we're in Seattle, headquarters of REI, squandering our REI dividend is more fun than ever. It's true I have to check my ego at the door when entering REI alongside the young, hip and fabulously fit crowd, but hey, I've been a member since memberships cost $5. I'm entitled. My husband wanted a new jacket so we spent a LOT of time in the men's department picking one out. It was a lot less expensive than we thought it would be, plus we had a 20% off coupon for each of us, so we had a bunch of dividend dollars left. We headed to the shoe department to look around because I'm always interested in seeking out vegan shoes. I immediately found two pairs of really cute vegan shoes to try. I have to mention that every woman in the shoe department — and there were a lot — was trying on hiking boots, except me. I was trying on CUTE SHOES. Even the sales clerk said, "Hmmm. These are awfully CUTE SHOES for REI." I looked her straight in the eye, and told her all my other shoes were hiking boots, and I needed something different.

This is not far from the truth, but I had to ignore the serious-hiking-boot-action around me to get the CUTE shoes on my feet. I liked them both, and unable to make a choice, I bought both pairs thinking I'd try them at home, and then decide. What should I do??? They are both comfortable. (And yes, I already do have hiking boots.)

There is some confusion about whether or not the Jambu "Pilot" shoes are vegan so I called Jambu to see what's what. The woman I spoke to said three of the four Pilot colors are vegan; black, raspberry and pistachio are vegan but the brown color is leather. This is because the designer couldn't find an acceptable brown vegan material. The box doesn't say "vegan" but the shoes definitely are, according to Jambu customer service. Various Web sites are listing the shoes as nubuck but Jambu told me this isn't the case. That's all I know.


  1. Great post! Nice photos!!! You'll be fine, potato-wise. I'll try most things once, and, once, I tried biting into a potato sprout. Whatever's in there, it's the bitterest, most poisonous thing I've ever tasted. I didn't get sick, but I sure wouldn't want to eat one. That said, I do cut the sprouts and/or green parts off potatoes and use the rest with no ill effects, but tend to compost the spongy ones. Your shoestrings look wonderful.

    Shoe-wise, if you're not going to keep both pairs (they are cute!), my vote is for #2.

  2. Those are really nice tater pics... Thanks for this post! I'm glad to know more about those sprouts on my spuds!

  3. Great potato advice.Those are some cute shoes! It's cool that you were able to find some great vegan flats amongst all the hiking boots.

  4. Zoa,
    Thank you! You can see I was inspired by your macro shots, though I didn't use a macro. I'm not sure what I'll do with old potatoes in the future but I definitely got the impression eating greenish, soft or sprouted ones wasn't a great idea.

    Not sure what to do with the shoes but thanks for your vote. (I agree.)

    Thanks! Storing potatoes in the dark and using them fast is the way to go. I'm not so sure about using them after they turn green or sprout. There seem to be so many different opinions.

    Thanks, and you're welcome.

    It's getting easier to find non-leather shoes and hiking boots than it used to be. Not being able to find vegan shoes has kept my shoe habit in check for years, now I'll have to start exercising more restraint in the face of so many options. :(

  5. It's a funny coincidence; I had a bunch of small red potatoes that were going to town/sprouting away, so yesterday, ( I hadn't seen this post until this morning) I decided to make a potato salad with them, blissfully unaware of any possible poisons. I did take the sprouts off, but we ate the salad and so far so good. Thanks for the informative post...I will definitely keep this in mind.

    The quest for cute vegan shoes is never-ending isn't it? Those are definitely pretty cute! Have you heard about the all-vegan shoe shop that opened last weekend on Greenwood Ave? I think it's called the Chocolate Shoe Box, and they sell vegan shoes and chocolate. I haven't been yet, but am planning on continuing my quest there soon to see what they have.

  6. PS,

    For what it's worth...I like the second pair best too...both are really cute though...it would be hard to decide.

  7. I love the Jambu pilot vegan shoes, but can't locate them anywhere on the REI or Jambu websites. They have listed a pair called Jambu Planet that look the same as those on your feet, but those aren't vegan because of the leather uppers and inners. Are these only available in store?

  8. I think the fact that you are still alive and feeling well is a good sign for the potato controversy :-) They look delicious (well, the finished product that is, not the "before" sprouted pictures, lol)!

    Those ARE cute shoes--I love them! Cute vegan shoes are hard to find...well done!


  9. Rose,
    I didn't get sick from my potatoes, either. I think you'd really have to eat a lot to feel the effects.

    I went to the Chocolate Shoebox opening event and saw at least two pairs I wanted. I'm trying to rein myself in until fall because I know I'll want boots! They're giving away free chocolate samples again this Saturday!

    You got me worried so I called Jambu, and they assured me the shoes are vegan. They are vegan in black, raspberry and pistachio but not brown because the designer couldn't find a brown vegan material he liked. The customer service rep. I spoke to said there's been confusion about the shoe, and it doesn't say vegan on the box. The shoe is stamped, all man made materials and is definitely vegan.

    Your comment made me laugh as I pictured a plate full of scary, warty potato sprouts! The actual cooked potatoes were delicious in spite of their poisonous potential.

    Cute and Comfortable — that's what I always look for. I sometimes settle for only comfortable, but never for only cute. It's nice to find both!

  10. Lots of great info., thanks for sharing it. I usually discard green and sprouted potatoes, I figure better safe than sorry.
    Both shoes are very cute, I'd keep them both ;) I always go for comfort, which means cute is hard to come by.

  11. Oh, no! I will definitely have to throw away all those sprouting potatoes on our counter (even though they're in a paper bag and not exposed to light. . .still no good, I reckon). And I vote for Shoes #1! ;)

    Thanks for all the great info!

  12. Hi Andrea,
    I vote for shoes #1, but both are cute! By the way this isn't Becca, it's Sally. Her name pops up and I haven't figured out how to get rid of it!

  13. Aaaaah! I usually cut off green parts and sprouts, but I'm going to rethink that now! Just made oven fries tonight with brand new potatoes anyway. The weather is, like, what I imagine Seattle's to be: cold, rainy and foggy. Not a good day for yard sales but I went to a few anyhow.

    Your shoes DO look cute! I'm not usually into shoes but maybe I need to go into REI and see whether they have them at the Madison one!

  14. Janet,
    Although I couldn't find agreement on potato safety, I think I'm going to start being more cautious about what I'll eat.

    I like the way you think about shoes!

    Thanks for your vote. If the shoe votes result in a tie, I may have to keep them both. :)

    This is going to be a tough shoe choice!
    (You have to sign out of Becca's gmail and sign in as yourself.)

    Actually, I don't think it rained today. (It's hard to keep track since it rains at least part of most days.) It was horribly windy though not too cold. I only wore a sweatshirt and not a coat during the day. It's not usually foggy, rather, generally overcast.

    I sure hope I'm not a bad influence on you, shoe-wise!

  15. The pictures of potatoes are icky!!! eeew!! Thanks for sharing! This blog is very informative. Love the shoes!

  16. Terrific post. I had no idea the potatoes were so toxic. I will be much more careful with my spuds from now on. I love both pairs of shoes but the bottom ones were my fav.


  18. Christine,
    Thanks for your comment. I couldn't keep the images of those lovely potato sprouts all to myself!

    Thanks! I guess I didn't realize potatoes could be so toxic either. I'm leaning towards the bottom pair.

    Good ideas!


Thanks for visiting Andrea's easy vegan cooking. I love, and read, all of your comments! Please share your thoughts.

There are a few Amazon links in the posts. Thanks in advance if you click on one.

Note: ALL THE IMAGES FROM THIS BLOG WERE ACCIDENTALLY DELETED ON 1-21-12. I'M RESTORING THEM, POST BY POST, BUT IT WILL TAKE A LONG TIME. Recipe pages you visit may be missing photos, but all the text in intact. If you find a post without images, let me know so I can fix it. Thanks!