The potato has always been treated as a plebeian vegetable in India, but in many other countries, it is the staple that substitutes for cereals. Ever since the tuber solanum tuberosum made its journey from the South American continent to the older world, chaperoned by Portuguese conquistadors, it has played different roles on the culinary stage, stellar and supporting. It is one of the most widely grown crops and sustains many a large food business.
From breakfast to dinner and snacks in between, potato is indispensable. So why should we be surprised when the Humpty Dumpty look-a-like reinvents itself (or let others do it) for another round of global conquest in the 21st century! Most crystal ball gazers focusing on foods of the future are of the unanimous opinion that potato milk is going to be one of the fastest emerging trends in the coming years. Understandably, this forecast has created considerable excitement in vegetarian-vegan circles. Other non-dairy milk like soy, almonds are much more expensive and have begun to jade even the lactose-intolerant palates.
Potato milk is dairy-free, cholesterol-free, and fat-free with equivalent calcium as cow milk. Experts also point out that the mineral and vitamin content in potato milk is greater than any other vegan option.
It grabbed attention after the Swedish Company, Veg of Lund, launched it as a retail product under its sub-brand DUG. Interestingly, what is being marketed abroad as potato milk is not entirely yielded by potatoes and comprises pea protein, maltodextrin, chicory fiber, rapeseed oil, and natural flavorings.
All those who wax eloquent about the virtues of potato milk and its sustainability and very small carbon footprint, etc. need to be reminded, that mock meat processing and packaging of potato milk substantially erodes such claims. British and Dutch companies have also produced potato proteins based on ‘meat’ for the growing vegetarian-vegan market.
The Koreans are dishing out potato starch-based glass noodles – Japchae. Potato milk, rich in starch lends itself very well to thickening sauces and is a good substitute for cream and corn syrup.
This is not all. Potato glass — a transparent edible sheet is a favorite innovative garnish with some Indian chefs. During the passing phase of molecular gastronomy in our country, some had tried to dazzle their guests with this display of ‘potato glass blowing’.
In reality, not much complex science was involved as potato glass chips can easily be made at home. Readymade potato starch may not be readily available everywhere but this stuff can be produced at home with little effort and some practice.
What has turned our thoughts to the potato was a recent news report about Indian authorities rejecting Pepsi Co’s claim to their patent on a genetically modified potato variant which used to produce Lay’s chips. The food major had made overtures to settle this dispute with the farmers but a government order preempted the settlements.
Genetically modified crops have been a contentious issue. Farmers around the world (especially in poor countries) are very apprehensive about the risks and advantages involved and the scientific communities continue to be divided. The US Food and Drugs Administration has termed genetically modified potatoes as innate potatoes and reassured consumers that they are quite safe. Such reassurances have so far failed to allay the fears.
Pondering the future of potato, we are reminded that how it was once a vegetarian ingredient substituted for meat in imported foods like Samosa in the medieval period and Hamburgers in the modern age. We seem to have come a full circle with now the potato manifesting itself in an unabashedly meaty avatar.