Uncooked potatoes are best stored in a cool and dry place, but don’t put them in the refrigerator, warns food technologist Nandi Nyamende. Baking, frying, or roasting potatoes that have been refrigerated can cause them to contain more sugar and a chemical called acrylamide.
Acrylamide is created when starchy foods such as potatoes are cooked at high temperatures. While its cancer-causing ability has yet to be demonstrated, it has the potential, says Nyamende.
“This compound can be formed when foods are baked, fried, grilled, toasted, or roasted. Acrylamide is not deliberately added to foods, it is a natural byproduct of the cooking process and has always been present in our food,” she explains.
“Here are ways to reduce your consumption of acrylamide when preparing food at home: you need to make sure that you don’t store raw potatoes in the fridge if you intend to cook them at high temperatures, such as roasting or frying.”
How to store your spuds
Nyamende says that keeping raw potatoes in the fridge can lead to the formation of more free sugars in the potatoes. This process is sometimes called ‘cold sweetening’.
If the potatoes are fried, roasted, or baked after cold sweetening, the acrylamide levels will rise. “Raw potatoes should be stored in a dark, cool environment at temperatures above 6°C,” she advises.
And yes, Mzansi the same applies to your sweet potatoes too. According to Master Class, the cold in your fridge can cause your sweet potatoes to lose flavour and soften.
Most raw vegetables should be stored at room temperature for a week or two before they show any signs of bruising.
A passion for food and science
Nyamende studied Food Science and Technology at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology. She recently completed her masters in food science and technology and she is currently a National Research Foundation (NRF DAAD) recipient for a PhD.
She tells Health For Mzansi, “I think a lot of people have many misconceptions about food science and technology. We are always mistaken for cooks. We do not cook. Food is a necessity, we all need to survive and that’s where we come in.”
She currently works in the research field at the Agricultural Research Council of South Africa. Her research expertise is in the pome fruit industry of SA, physiological and pathological disorders facing the industry, molecular microbiology as well as food security.
Nyamende describes her relationship with food as simply science. “Before food gets to be on the shelves, it has to go through rigorous quality and microbiological tests for it to qualify as suitable for human consumption,” she says.
Read your labels, Mzansi
Nyamende reiterates that as consumers, we need to familiarise ourselves with the label ingredients list because sometimes you get ingredients. that are not allowed in certain food products.
“That’s where you get your foodstuffs, cosmetics, and disinfectants act which basically stipulates how much of a certain ingredient is allowed in a specific food product,” she says.
“The food industry has undertaken a lot of work to identify and implement measures to reduce acrylamide levels in food. This includes developing guidance on ways to limit acrylamide formation in a variety of foods and processes. New legislation will require food business operators to put simple, practical steps in place to manage acrylamide within their facilities.”
Research is being conducted to find out how to reduce the levels of acrylamide in food as it cannot be reversed once it has been produced.