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Are sprouted potatoes poisonous?

Or is it an old wives' tale? Your life might depend on knowing the truth.

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Jenny Dettrick/Moment/Getty Images

Are sprouted potatoes safe to eat, or are they poisonous? And what about green spots?

You've probably wondered about this on occasion, when you're rummaging through the corners of your pantry and come across a sack of potatoes with a few pointy, gnarly, sprouty things sticking out every which way. You vaguely remember hearing something about those sprouts being poisonous, but can't recall if it's actually true, and whether it affects the entire potato or not. So do you toss 'em or break out the peeler and masher?

Glycoalkaloids, green spots & sprouts

It turns out that the sprouts do contain potentially harmful concentrations of glycoalkaloids, compounds that can have toxic effects (resulting in solanine poisoning, if you want to get specific). But sprouted spuds aren't necessarily duds: The potato itself is likely still safe to eat, so long as you cut away the little growths and green spots -- unless the potato is also extremely soft or shriveled, which is a bad sign. And never eat a bitter potato!

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Chowhound

In a 2006 paper published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, USDA research chemist Mendel Friedman explains that "glycoalkaloids are produced in all parts of the potato plant including leaves, roots, tubers and sprouts." They're also found in other fruits and vegetables in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplants.

When consumed in large enough doses, glycoalkaloids can have some pretty nasty effects; symptoms of solanine poisoning include abdominal pain, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting. The levels of these toxic compounds in the root (i.e., the potato) itself are generally too low to have any bad effects. But "sprouts contain higher levels than do leaves or tubers," therefore it's best to avoid them.

Friedman mentions that "light and heat or mechanical injury stimulates glycoalkaloid synthesis," which is why it's a good idea to store your potatoes in a cool, dark place. Additionally, light triggers chlorophyll formation, which is harmless in itself. But it causes potatoes to turn green in the same spots that are at the most risk for being poisonous, acting as a visual cue for the parts you should avoid.

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Chowhound

Bottom line

Cut off the sprouts and any green spots before cooking, and the remainder of the potato should be safe for consumption. If you do notice an unusually bitter taste in the potato, however, this could be a sign of increased glycoalkaloids in the root and it should not be eaten. If it's very wrinkly and soft, toss it too.

To make your spuds last longer, this is the best way to store potatoes. Plus, see how to to grow potatoes at home (even if you don't have a garden).

Potato recipes

In any event, once you've desprouted your potatoes, the possibilities for what you can do with them are virtually endless. Check out Chowhound's showcase of international potato recipes, plus a few of the most essential potato preparations below:

French fries

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Chowhound

Perfectly golden and crispy on the outside, tender on the inside: It's every cook's holy grail. Chowhound will get you there with the double-fry technique in this french fry recipe. Or if you have a fear of frying, see how to make healthier fries.

Easy potato skins

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Chowhound

Bar food without the bar, perfect potato skins are easy to achieve at home and are just the thing to munch on movie night... or game day.

Perfect baked potatoes

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Chowhound

Baked potatoes are the culinary equivalent of a blank canvas: You can decorate and elaborate on them any way you want. Add some vegetables, some cheese, meat, whatever, and you've got a complete masterpiece of a meal in itself. Get the perfect baked potato recipe.

Hash browns

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Chowhound

Happiness might just be a plate of crispy hash browns on a bleary-eyed Sunday morning. And these hash browns are the crispest of them all, calling for just a little extra elbow grease and arm work to get them to their best golden brown.

Herbed potato salad

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Chowhound

A vinegary, herb-laden potato salad is the perfect counterpart to rich and fatty meats. Serve it next to ribs at your barbecue, sausages on German night or pretty much anytime you've got a hankering for something tart and puckery. (But if you like things creamier, check out Chowhound Executive Editor Hana Asbrink's favorite Japanese potato salad recipe.)

Classic mashed potatoes

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Chowhound

Master perfect mashed potatoes and you'll have a no-fail side that goes with so much, from summer cookout spreads and winter stews to Thanksgiving dinner.

Perfect roast potatoes

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Chowhound

If there's an all-purpose, goes-with-everything version of potatoes, it's this perfect roast potatoes recipe. A handful of rosemary and garlic gives these spuds enough flavor to stand out on their own, yet they're still versatile enough to go with just about anything. (But did you know you can actually roast leftover potato salad too? See how to use leftover BBQ dishes for the details.)

The original version of this story was written by Miki Kawasaki for CNET's sister site, Chowhound.

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.