Do Apples Keep Potatoes From Sprouting? It’s Complicated.

(The Monterey County Herald/TNS) -

We know how life goes. One minute we’re happily intrigued with some new information. And the next moment, we’re scratching our heads saying, “Really?”

So goes what I thought would be a slam dunk column this week, featuring very cool food ideas forwarded to me from a friend in cyberspace. Titled “Ingenious Innovations That Really Work,” I was indeed intrigued, especially with the last item on this list:

  1. Need to slice a bunch of small cherry tomatoes? Sandwich them between two plastic lids and slide a long knife through them all at once. Yep, it really works… if you have a sharp knife.
  2. To keep brown sugar from becoming rock hard in a dry climate, add one or two large marshmallows to your storage container. It will keep your sugar soft. Another winner.
  3. Baking stuffed peppers? Keep them upright in the oven by placing them in a large muffin tin. Great idea.
  4. Store an apple with potatoes to keep them from budding. Really? I was curious about this one. After some digging (pardon the pun), I’m still not able to confirm if apples keep potatoes from sprouting. Ripe apples emit ethylene gas and other compounds that some experts say suppress the sprouting mechanism of potatoes. Other experts explain that ethylene gas from apples promotes sprouting of potatoes; they say it’s not a good idea to let fruit (apples) and vegetables (potatoes) play together.

Why the discrepancy? According to Washington State University, ethylene is considered the “aging hormone” of plants. It causes fruit to ripen. Yet ethylene has a wide range of effects on the sprouting of potatoes, depending on the quantity and length of exposure, say other plant experts. One older study from the University of California at Davis, for example, found that short-term exposure of potatoes to ethylene gas encouraged more sprouting while long term exposure suppressed it. Go figure.

In 2008, the test kitchen of Cooks Illustrated magazine did an actual experiment on this question. After eight weeks, they found that potatoes stored with an apple did not sprout as much as those stored without an apple.

What we do know for sure, according to the United States Library of Medicine, is that potato sprouts or any part of the plant that turns green contain a poisonous ingredient called solanine. We should always discard sprouts or any green on potatoes since this is where this toxin resides. All experts, including Dr. Potato of the Idaho Potato Commission, say the safest way to keep our spuds in good shape for the longest time is to store them in a cool (45 to 55 degrees F.) and dark place (not the refrigerator).

So much for simple advice. Send me your comments and we’ll figure this out together.


Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.