Potatoes with eyes

What Does It Mean When Potatoes Grow Eyes? Are They Safe To Eat?

A potato will grow eyes only under the proper growing conditions and after breaking out of a dormant state.

Unlike other garden crops, potatoes are not ordinarily grown from small seeds. Rather, they grow from small squares of tubers that have been sliced into cubes with at least 2 “potato eyes” known as seed potatoes.

It is these eyes that are going to sprout and create new tubers underground for digging up and eating in a variety of ways.

What Is The Dormancy Period For Potatoes?

Potatoes have to undergo what is referred to as a rest period, or dormancy, which must be broken if they are to grow eyes and you will be able to plant them in your garden. Potatoes once harvested, will go into a dormant state in order to shield the plants from negative weather conditions.

When tubers are in a dormant state they will not grow and can’t be enticed to do so even if put into the proper growing conditions, potatoes simply will not sprout from them.

In order to keep them dormant, it is necessary that potatoes be kept at cooler temperatures of around 40 degrees F or so. This is why you must store potatoes in a dry, cool part of your home.

It is not uncommon for stored potatoes to break dormancy when they discover that the area they have been placed in has conditions compatible with sprouting, which is the reason the potatoes you have carefully put in your cupboard will sometimes surprise you by growing sprouting eyes.

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Naturally, sprouting is great for seed potatoes, but it is definitely not a desirable condition for cooking potatoes. You must be careful of green or sprouted potatoes, as they can cause solanine poisoning if eaten.

Are Sprouted Sweet Potatoes Safe to Eat?

You can still safely eat a sprouted sweet potato.

Just take a vegetable peeler and with the top loop scoop out the sprouts. The reason you need to remove the sprouts is because potatoes that have developed eyes contain greater amounts of glycoalkaloids.

These are compounds which turn potatoes green and can be toxic to humans when consumed in excessive amounts.

Is It Ok To Eat The Eyes of Potatoes?

The answer to that is absolutely not.

Potatoes themselves are safe to eat, even once they’ve sprouted, just make sure they still remain firm to the touch, aren’t extremely wrinkled, and the sprouts are small.

But, since there is the potential for poisoning if you eat potato sprouts, you need to remove all of the sprouts very carefully, and if the potato is in a very bad state, just throw it away. After all, is one lousy potato really worth your health?

When it comes to sprouted potatoes, normally the greater part of the nutrients they contain are still intact, and that can be determined by the firmness of the potato. The life cycle of a potato is actually quite interesting, because even after it is dug up, it continues to change and grow.

When a potato sprouts, it does more than just grow a green eye. It actually turns starch into sugar so that this can be used to feed the new potato plant that it expects will develop from the sprouts. 

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When this process is just beginning, you might find soft spots around the sprouts. Just remove the soft spots along with any sprouts, and your potato will be just fine for cooking.

How Do You Know When a Potato Has Gone Bad?

Once it starts, the sprouting process will continue until the potato starts to wrinkle and become shriveled.

During this process, starch is still being turned into sugar and used to help the growing sprouts. A potato that is looking very wrinkled and shriveled, plus has sprouts has lost most of its nutrients, and it shouldn’t be used because it will not make a tasty part of the meal.

It’s always best not to eat potatoes that are wrinkled or shriveled.

While solanine and other glycoalkaloids are found in potato plants, it is primarily concentrated in the sprouts, eyes, and skin, but not the remaining part of the potato.

Since these compounds are poisonous to humans, eating them can cause an upset stomach, headache, vomiting, and in extreme cases heart and nervous system difficulties.

But never fear, as long as you cut off the eyes, sprouts, and skin, you will not be experiencing any ill effects. Also, if the potato in question has developed green skin, peel it before you consume it.

Furthermore, these facts are just warnings. Don’t rush around throwing all of the potatoes out of your refrigerator after reading this. You would have to consume an awful lot of green skinned, sprouted potatoes to become seriously ill.

How To Keep Potatoes From Sprouting

If you want to avoid issues with sprouting, then you need to keep your potatoes in a dry, cool, and dark place if you intend to store them for a while. Incidentally, don’t place your potatoes anywhere near onions, because onions will make them sprout more quickly.

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In the case of commercial potato growers, they frequently treat their potatoes using different methods to prevent them from sprouting. However, if you grow your own, here are a several basic storage ideas that will help extend the life of your potatoes by as much as weeks or even months:

  • If you purchase potatoes in bulk or harvest your own crop every fall, be careful when choosing the variety of potato. Certain potatoes are better suited to long term storage than others.
  • Essentially, dryer, late-harvest potatoes are the ones that keep the best. You can try seeking out heirloom varieties that have a longstanding reputation as being good for storing.
  • Potatoes that you’ve grown yourself must be either dried out or cured outside or they won’t be suitable for storing long term. It might seem tempting to eliminate this step, but if you do, your potatoes won’t keep as long as they will otherwise.

Potatoes that are damaged won’t do well in storage either. Make sure the potatoes you are storing are in good condition, and they will be less apt to rot or sprout on you.