COMMENT: Summer is here at last

The lifting of the first Comber potatoes is a very clear signal that summer has arrived. I have already eaten a few of this year’s earlies and I can confirm that their eating quality is truly excellent.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 12:00 pm

Potatoes tend to be the forgotten sector within Northern Ireland’s farming and food industry. Over the past number of years, a combination of poor weather, increasing production costs and not-so-exciting retail prices have all combined to put extreme pressure on grower margins. But by far the biggest challenge confronting the industry is the continuing poor image which potatoes ‘enjoy’ in the minds of many consumers. This is a state-of-affairs that is totally unjustified. The potato remains one of the most natural foods that we can eat. If consumed with its jacket on it represents one of the most valuable sources of nutritional fibre. Potatoes also contain more Vitamin C than oranges. By definition, the potato is a vegetable. Yet, nutritionists continue to regard ‘spuds’ as a source of starch only. In other words, potatoes are not included in the list of fruit and vegetables that we are expected to consume on a daily basis as part of a balanced diet. So much for the background: By way of contrast, it’s worth considering developments that have taken place within the dairy sector over the past number of years. Thirty years ago, butter was considered to be one of the worst possible foods that we could include in our diet. It was full of fat and cholesterol.

However, revisionist thinking (brought to bear over the past few years) has changed all of that. Celebrity chefs and nutritionists now champion the cause of butter, referring to it as one of the most natural foods that we can eat.

Such was the consumer response to these developments that demand for butter spiked 18 months ago, leading to the uplift in milk prices enjoyed by every local dairy farmer throughout 2017.

Meanwhile, potatoes continue to suffer from an image that does this unique food source no favours at all.

Even if considered as a carbohydrate source only, they have something which the likes of rice and pasta will never have…taste!

To say that potatoes need an image makeover is an understatement of some magnitude. The good news is that a lot of the ground work on this issue has already been done.

Many local packers have done a lot to make fresh potatoes more versatile, when it comes to preparing them for the table.

But they can’t be expected to do all of the heavy lifting promotional work on their own