Big bags of potatoes are often a bargain compared to individual spuds, so you may decide it’s better to purchase the lot of them and have several on hand. Of course, potatoes make plenty of delicious side dishes, including creamy mashed potatoes and potato gratin. Keeping a few extra in the pantry is never a bad idea.
What is a bad idea? Putting those potatoes in the refrigerator.
Why You Shouldn’t Refrigerate Potatoes
The decision to refrigerate potatoes could cost you in two significant ways.
First, potatoes that are stored in a cold fridge develop an unnatural flavor and texture due to changes in the sugar content of the spud. Cold potatoes may taste sweet and feel gritty.
At the same time that a potato’s texture and taste are shifting, another change is taking place, and this one could be harmful to your health. The sugars in cold potatoes can develop into a dangerous chemical called acrylamide when the spud pieces are cooked at high temps, such as baking, frying, or roasting.
Potatoes contain a natural sugar called sucrose. When you refrigerate potatoes, an enzyme in the spud turns that sucrose into glucose and fructose. When those sugars are exposed to high temps during cooking, they combine with an amino acid called asparagine and produce the chemical acrylamide.
Acrylamide is a natural chemical, but it’s typically found in things you’re unlikely to eat or ingest, such as paper, adhesives, construction materials, and cigarette smoke.
However, because of the conversion of sugars into the dangerous chemical in some foods, acrylamide is also found in French fries, potato chips, coffee, and foods made from grains, including toast and cookies.
Research suggests acrylamide may cause cancer, specifically kidney, endometrial, and ovarian cancer. That said, it’s important to note that the strongest evidence has been in animal studies. Human studies have been inconclusive, the American Cancer Society says.
Still, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says the chemical is “likely to be carcinogenic to humans.”
The Best Place to Store Potatoes
For the sake of the potatoes and your health, you should store potatoes in a cool, dry place that’s well ventilated. If you don’t have a root cellar, consider keeping the spuds in your pantry, wrapped in a paper bag. The bag allows the potatoes to breathe and helps prevent moisture from developing.
How to Reduce Acrylamide
According to the United Kingdom’s Food Standards Agency (which is similar to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), “It isn’t possible to stop acrylamide being produced or to remove it from foods once it has been produced.” The FSA and U.S. organizations alike continue to research acrylamide to understand how and when it develops and what can be done to reduce levels when it does occur.
This research has led to a few key understandings. These tips from the National Institute of Environmental Health Science may help you limit exposure to the chemical:
- Fry foods at temperatures below 338°F. Temperatures above that begin the conversion process, turning the sugars into acrylamide. If you don’t already own one, make sure you have a solid food thermometer on hand in your kitchen.
- Don’t overcook fried, baked, or roasted foods. Cook to a golden yellow color, not golden brown.
- Do not store potatoes in the fridge. Keep them in a cool, dry, and well-ventilated space.
- Soak potatoes that have been refrigerated in water for 30 minutes. Some of the sugars will leach out into the water. Be sure to drain the potatoes and pat dry before frying.
- Cook other foods that may develop acrylamide to their lowest point. Toast should be lightly toasted, for example.
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