Potatoes in Canada

Features Business & Policy Research
Low glycemic potato expands menu for diabetics

November 18, 2014 – Scientist Benoît Bizimungu and his team at the Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and the Lethbridge Research Centre in Alberta have developed a low glycemic potato.

Low glycemic index foods digest slowly, without creating a big spike of sugar and insulin in the body. This helps to achieve sustainable weight loss and improvement in the management of diabetes.

Further trials will tell whether it could open up new menu possibilities for diabetics and others with low glycemic diets.

“Our first release successfully completed two years of industry evaluation in 2013. This year, Parkland Seed Potatoes Ltd. in Edmonton, Alberta, was granted exclusive testing rights of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)’s low glycemic potato, with the option to license it,” said Dr. Bizimungu, a potato breeder with AAFC based in Fredericton, N.B.

New selections of low glycemic potatoes are being developed at the Potato Research Centre. As their performance proves satisfactory, these selections will progressively be released to industry for commercial evaluation and market development.

Other specialty potatoes being developed by scientists Bizimungu, Agnes Murphy, Helen Tai and David De Koeyer in Fredericton include germplasm with pigmented flesh and enhanced antioxidant content, as well as potatoes with high starch for industrial use.

The new varieties are developed using traditional breeding methods and exploiting natural genetic diversity existing in local or exotic potato germplasm from South America. Some new technologies help to speed up the development process. For instance, a near-infrared spectrometer and a rheometer at the Potato Research Centre allow scientists to measure starch content and composition of potatoes with a simple test. This technology eliminates years of trial and error to identify desirable characteristics.

This mix of traditional techniques and new technologies is helping scientists develop potatoes that are adapted to local growing conditions and that have improved nutritional qualities to meet consumer needs and enhance human health. Introducing new varieties to the market creates new opportunities for farmers and helps keep them competitive. The next step is for the potato industry to test the varieties for their commercial potential.