SPUDS, Fla. For dieters, potatoes have been scorned, rejected and castigated the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables, they get no respect.
Many weight-loss programs, including the Atkins and the South Beach diets, advocate meat and cheese over high-carbohydrate potatoes, pasta and bread.
Come January, carb-counters who love potatoes may find cause to rejoice a bit. Florida growers will be pitching a potato they hope will be a hot one it claims one-third fewer carbs than the ordinary spud.
''Consumers are going to love the flavor and appearance of this potato and the fact that it has 30 percent fewer carbohydrates compared to a standard Russet baking potato,'' said Chad Hutchinson, an assistant professor of horticulture at University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
After five years of testing in the sandy soils near the heart of Florida's potato country, Hutchinson knew it tasted great, had a shorter growing cycle, was disease-resistant and able to handle Florida's extreme weather. He then learned about its lower-carb properties.
''That was just gravy,'' he said.
Independent research shows about 3 1/2 ounces of the new potato contain about 13 grams of carbohydrate compared to around 19 grams in the same size serving of a Russet Burbank.
The new baseball-size potato will be available in supermarkets and restaurants in January.
Florida is the first test site in the United States for the European import, which was developed by HZPC, a seed company based in the Netherlands. The potato was developed by crossbreeding and was not genetically modified.
Five Florida potato growers have formed the SunFresh Marketing Cooperative to the grow and promote the new spud, said Jim McDowell, the sales and marketing director for the cooperative.
The cooperative hasn't said what the new potato will cost.
''We're pretty excited about it,'' said McDowell, noting that farmers decided to grow it before learning they had a low-carb benefit.
''I think low-carb is here to stay,'' McDowell said. ''But you do need some carbohydrates in your diet.''
The growers also want to market the potato as a ''fresh'' vegetable with a brand name and a logo, so shoppers will ask for it in their grocery store.
''A potato that is freshly dug tastes different than a potato dug eight or nine months ago and put in storage,'' Hutchinson said.
The way Hutchinson sees it, potatoes get no respect.
''When you go into a grocery store today and you look for potatoes, you don't know what you are buying, how long it has been in storage, where it came from,'' said Hutchinson, who said some potatoes have been in storage for up to a year before they hit the grocer's shelves.
''We want the public to be able to recognize they have a choice and they should be asking for a fresh product, just on the taste alone.''
Potatoes contribute about $120 million a year to Florida's economy. The state supplies about 60 percent of the country's fresh potato market from January to June, Hutchinson said.
''We do not store potatoes,'' he added.
Linda McCashion, who represents the National Potato Promotion Board, which has launched a $4.5 million campaign marketing the spud's nutritional value, said the board is pleased there are new varieties being developed.
She noted that an average potato contains only 100 calories, has no fat, is low in sodium and high in potassium, plus has some dietary fiber. It also has vitamins C and B-6.
Colette Heimowitz of the Atkins Health & Medical Information Services, said potatoes are not recommended until a dieter reaches a goal weight.
''Once they achieve their weight loss, it is fine,'' she said, noting the same carbohydrate reduction offered by the new potato could be accomplished by eating a third less of a regular potato.
Don Northcott, marketing manager for HZPC Americas Corp. on Prince Edward Island, Canada, is enthusiastic.
''The combination of good Florida soils, warm temperatures and the experience of Florida producers sets the stage for delivery of a fresh potato flavor treat,'' Northcott said.
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