"Mashing potatoes is a popular way of serving potatoes with only salt and butter or cream."
(Photo credit: Umar Nsubuga)
A common feature along the streets of several Kampala suburbs in the evenings is food. Irish potato chips (fries) are a staple on the normally vast array of the ready-to-eat foodstuffs put up for sale by vendors. Today, let's focus on the Irish potato: the various ways of preparing it as well as the health benefits.
Ali Senfuma, a nutritionist in Kampala, says good Irish potatoes should be firm, well-shaped and relatively smooth. They should be free of decay that often manifests as wet or dry rot.
He also says they should not be sprouting or have green colouration since this indicates that they may contain the poisonous alkaloid solanine.
Generally, nutritionists say that the best way to eat an Irish potato is in its whole, unprocessed form. And baking is the best way to prepare it, as baking or microwaving causes the lowest amount of nutrients to be lost.
Senfuma says the perfect baked potato is crispy on the outside and fluffy in the inside. "You need a fairly large potato for baking. It should be thoroughly washed but not peeled."
Aida Namatovu, another nutritionist in Wakiso, says most people today eat potatoes with a lot of grease, yet they are naturally low in fat. However, there are healthier ways of preparing them although most people enjoy eating them as chips.
According to Namatovu, the healthiest way to cook a potato is by steaming, which causes less nutrient loss than boiling.
She also says salt must be added to steamed vegetables after they are cooked rather than to the water prior to cooking.
Alex Masinde, a chef at Noah's Ark Hotel in Kapchorwa, says there are various ways to prepare potatoes without using cooking oil. He agrees that the skin of the Irish potato is nutritious, and says that people must know that the potato skins they peel off contain nutrients.
Potato peels protect the nutrients contained in potatoes from escaping.
Why potatoes don't need to be fried
Sharon Nabweteme, a nutritionist in Kampala, says research has shown that carbohydrates in foods like Irish potatoes form acrylamides when heated to high temperatures. Acrylamides have been shown to cause cancer in rats and are believed to have similar effect in humans.
"Some people may argue that using a healthier kind of oil than a saturated fat or trans-fat reduces some of the negative effects. The high temperatures used for deep-frying may cause the oil to undergo changes that can lead to free radical formation", she says.
She also says deep-frying in any kind of oil also increases the calorie and fat content which is not a positive when it comes to controlling weight. Almost anything that's deep fried is going to be fatty.
Nabweteme says there are many ways of cooking potatoes, but it is important for one to cook when he/she is going to get full nutritional benefits.
"The cooking methods should include steaming, pressure cooking and microwaving".
"Potatoes should not be cooked for long because a high percentage of vitamin C is being degraded by the heat," adds Masinde, mentioned earlier.
According to Nabweteme not all varieties of Irish potatoes are nutritious. Those with green skins contain a high percentage of anti-nutrients, which are chemicals in foods that hinder digestion and absorption of certain nutrients
SeNfuma says to pull this off, peel the Irish potatoes, chop into pieces and boil for 15 minutes until they are soft. Pound them into a paste-like consistency.
"Mashing potatoes is a popular way of serving potatoes with only salt and butter or cream. Grated garlic and white pepper can also be added for a rich a flavour," he explains.
Traditional mashed potato recipes are made with loads of butter, cream and salt, making them terribly bad for us. But don't despair: Masinde says you can still enjoy mashed potatoes without the added fats. Instead of butter you can use olive oil and spice up the mash with onions, coriander leaves and white pepper.
Namatovu thinks that many people know the nutritional value of garlic, so garlic can be used as a topping for your Irish potatoes.
All you have to do is boil them and dress them with garlic sauce. First, you fry the garlic separately till it turns golden brown, add some cornflower powder and smear around your potatoes. Garlic is a very good source of manganese, selenium and Vitamin C.
Masinde says the best way of cooking potatoes is steaming or boiling them in their skin for 20-30 minutes. Although most people like to peel them, he says leaving their skins on helps keep all the nutrients intact.
To make the perfect potatoes, you have to cut the potatoes into cubes before you can boil them, advises Masinde. Then, you can mix them with different kinds of vegetables such as mukene. He says there are no particular vegetables you have to use -- it all depends on your preference.
These, again according to Masinde, get their name because they are wrapped in foil paper which protects them from excess heat coming from the grill. To prepare, wash them very well and wrap each in foil paper. Remember you have to leave the skin on. Once done, swerve and enjoy!
Well, so with that said, Irish potatoes for lunch . . . anyone?