The Many Benefits of Purple Pride



Press Release:

Lima, Peru. You could be forgiven for thinking that Dr Ted Carey set out on his mission to develop a purple sweetpotato purely out of pride for the official color of Kansas State University, where he has been working at their Olathe Research and Extension Center. But over two decades working with sweetpotato has given this breeder and extension specialist an in depth understanding of the crop’s potential, and how it can improve lives both in the developed world and for resource poor farmers in developing countries.

Carey has a long association with the Lima-based International Potato Center (known by its Spanish acronym CIP. He worked for the center in Peru and in the Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) Regional office in the 1980-90’s, and is soon to return as a sweetpotato breeder in Ghana for CIP’s Sweetpotato Action for Security and Health in Africa (SASHA) project. So when Carey wanted to develop a purple sweetpotato variety for Kansas, he knew exactly where to go: CIP’s genebank, located in the Lima suburb of La Molina. “The CIP breeder sent me about 2000 seeds from crosses between purple parent plants that looked promising for regions like ours,” he explained. “I was interested in purple-fleshed sweetpotato because there were not yet any commercial varieties adapted for cultivation in the mainland USA, and there is a fairly significant demand for this type of sweetpotato, almost all of which is imported.”

The goal is to produce a variety that grows well in the cold-winter region, stores well, and is attractive to market. But the color is not only so that it can look good. Anthocyanine, the pigment also found in blueberries and red cabbage is known to be associated with a reduced risk of cancer, and recent studies at the university have shown that purple skinned and fleshed sweetpotato has a higher anthocyanin content than other varieties. It can also provide more anti- aging antioxidant components. “My nutritionist colleagues tell me that the anthocyanins in sweetpotato have good bioavailabilty, meaning they are easily absorbed from the digestive tract into the bloodstream, where they may have beneficial effects,” says Carey.

Nutritional scientists at the university are interested in the possible cancer preventing effects. Initial research on some of Carey’s purple sweetpotatoes has provided encouraging results, showing that two anthocyanine derivatives they contain, cyanidine and peonidin, inhibit human colon cancer cell’s growth. Follow up studies are underway. “Aside from that,” adds Carey “purple sweetpotatoes appear to be similar to other sweetpotatoes, meaning they are just plain good for you overall.”

From those original 2000 seedlings planted in 2007, Carey has narrowed the field down to less than a dozen, and further multilocational testing will take place in the coming season. Overall results so far point to an eventual top variety that may not be very sweet but could prove to be useful for processing. Best uses remain to be investigated, but purple French fries may yet be a reality for Kansas State.

For more information, please contact:
Valerie Gwinner
Head, Communications and Public Awareness Department
International Potato Center (CIP)
Tel: +51 1 317 5334