The Great Lakes Potato Chips Co. created the kettle cooked chips from the Blackberry potato, the latest of more than 30 varieties – and 20 years of trial and error – developed by a professor and director of the MSU’s Potato Breeding and Genetics Program.
“MSU … puts a ton of research into potatoes; they work so hard to do stuff like this,” said Chris Girrbach, president of the Great Lakes Potato Chip Co.
“I just hope people see how fun the research can be and how important growing it is.”
The potato professor
Known as Mr Potato Prof, David Douches has dedicated his career to developing new potato varieties for Michigan – one of America’s top potato producing states – ranging from Beacon Chipper and Purple Haze to Raspberry and Spartan Splash.
His biggest breakthrough came in 2011, after the potato genome was sequenced by an international team, leading his team to develop genome-wide genetic markers. This enabled more precise breeding and the ability to genetically mark desired traits, giving the already-versatile potato even more possibilities.
“In my opinion, plant breeding is a public service, [contributing] to a diverse and abundant food supply that we all benefit from,” said Prof Douches.
Working with students from countries as far away as Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan and Argentina, he breeds strains that can survive in different environments – like being drought tolerant and resistance to late blight, which caused the Irish Potato Famine – as well as provide additional benefits.
Blackberry potatoes are packed with anthocyanin, the antioxidant that gives blueberries, grapes and red wine their distinctive colour.
Purple people eater? No, people eating purple potatoes
“I always saw that there was a need in the specialty market for a good purple-pigmented flesh variety of potato,” said Prof Douches.
“There were some old varieties around in the past that I felt didn’t really serve the market well, so we made an effort to try to improve on that.
“We were trying to find ones that had a round shape rather than a long shape, and also ones that had some disease resistance, as well as a deeper purple flesh colour.”
His team worked with Iott Farms in Kalkaska, Michigan, to grow and harvest the Blackberry potatoes used for the potato chip processing.
“We produced some seed that went to the commercial growers who then produced the potatoes for Great Lakes and now they’re coming out with their first run. But it’s still limited because there’s not a lot of potatoes being grown.
“Great Lakes Potato Chips is working out the commercialisation of purple potato chips from this potato.
“It should be a fun product.”
The novel chips are being sold for a limited time at selected Michigan retailers, including Kroger, Meijer, Spartan Foods, Sam’s Club and Costo, or online from the snack maker.