Expert researches new varieties for changing Earth

Not far from Alliston, potato expert Eugenia Banks’ storage shed covered in corrugated steel is unremarkable save for its contents.

Her cache is nestled in white paper bags piled on pallets lined against the walls. Inside are prized potatoes: River John Blues and Purple Majesties, Winemas and Dakotas, Piccolos and Amandines.

“This is my little spot,” says Banks, a native of Chile who has been the potato specialist for the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs since she graduated from the University of Guelph with a PhD in plant pathology in 1990. “I have 250 or 300 varieties here.”


Banks is now experimenting with drought-resistant varieties that may do well if climate change heats up the Earth. That’s why the potato bank is such a treasure trove.

The lowly potato, shunned by Atkins-crazed dieters bent on dodging carbs, is finally getting its moment in the sun. The United Nations has declared 2008 International Year of the Potato in recognition of the tuber’s 5,000 years on the planet and the fact it grows in poor soil and can keep many hungry people alive.

The carbohydrates provide fuel for the body, and potatoes are rich in vitamin C, potassium and several antioxidants.

baking or boiling?

• At one end of the spectrum is the boiling potato, sometimes described in recipes as a waxy potato because it has a lower starch content, which gives it a firm texture. At the other end is the baking potato, which has a higher starch content and a fluffier, floury texture.

• In between are all-purpose potatoes that have medium starch content, such as the Yukon Gold, which can be baked or boiled.