A unique purple-coloured potato has been developed in Northern Ireland primarily for the US and Canadian markets, but is also destined to hit Europe later as well.
Known as Purple Magic, the variety was developed by AFBI (Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute) in Loughgall as part of a Department of Agriculture-funded strategic potato breeding programme focusing on the development of parental breeding lines with novel attributes.
These attributes include potatoes with enhanced disease resistance, processing quality and, in this case, coloured flesh.
In addition, the strategic breeding programme developed a series of parental lines including some with red and purple colouration in the flesh.
This was in response to research into the beneficial effects of Anthocyanins (the coloured pigments) which are a class of compounds with antioxidant and therefore possibly anti-cancer properties.
The link is still contentious but the general health benefits of eating highly coloured fruit and vegetables are already established to some extent.
Purple Magic is being marketed initially in Canada due to a collaboration with Solanum Inc, through Potato Partners NI (PPNI)/KWS Potatoes BV (Netherlands), who are AFBI’s commercial partners.
The Purple Magic potatoes are already in commercial production in Canada and the US with an estimated production this year of up to 1,000 tonnes.
The variety can be used both for the table potato (boiling) and for crisps (chips in the US).
The market for niche varieties such as these is growing in Canada and the US.
Only AFBI in Northern Ireland have stocks at the moment, but micro-propagation is under way to boost seed volumes.
As the European market for such a coloured variety develops, Purple Magic is being multiplied for trialling and registration in Europe.