The real question is, why would you want to?
Raw vegetables are usually considered a paradigm of healthy eating. So why is it that raw potatoes have always been shunned from clean eating regimens? While many have heard of the dangers of uncooked tuber consumption, others have been biting into raw potatoes as one would an apple for years without any serious repercussions.
So are raw potatoes safe to consume, or a potential health menace?
Though raw potatoes are not necessarily inherently toxic—and chances are you’d be fine consuming one—there are a number of reasons why eating an uncooked potato isn’t a great move for your body… or your tastebuds. In addition to their bitter taste and starchy, mealy texture, raw potatoes are likely to clash with your digestive system and have the potential to cause more serious health issues.
The first concern lies in the kind of carbohydrates found in potatoes. Though carbohydrates are a key fuel for the human body, our digestive systems aren’t equipped to break down raw starches, also known as resistant starches. The starchy carbohydrates contained in potatoes remain virtually indigestible before they’re cooked, and provide minimal nutritional value or fuel.
When these starches are cooked, they go through a process called gelation, during which their starch molecules become digestible for the human body. This process also takes place in grains, such as rice and oats, other foods that are seldomly consumed raw.
Though attempting to digest raw starches isn’t going to cause you any lasting bodily harm, the raw potato will pass through the digestive tract with very little breakdown, likely leading to an increase in unpleasant cramping, bloating, and gas production.
Raw potatoes have also been found to contain antinutrients, which tend to inhibit enzymes in the body, making consumption of other foods unusually difficult. A study in the Journal of Food Science determined that these antinutrients significantly decrease during cooking, and primarily exist in the potato peel.
As with all raw foods, extra care must be taken to remove any outside pathogens (the bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses) before consumption, particularly since no heat source is being used to kill these pathogens. As potatoes carry soil on their skin, if you do choose to munch on a potato raw, it must be washed thoroughly and ideally peeled to prevent the consumption of any bacteria from the soil.
The main source of concern when it comes to raw potato consumption is a toxic compound called solanine, which can cause headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and even death in extreme cases.
Though most fully grown potatoes contain only a small, innocuous amount of solanine, all potato plants contain a number of self-defensive substances that mostly develop in the parts of the plant that are exposed to sunlight. While most potatoes grow completely underground, making them safe to consume, those that have been exposed to sunlight or stored for long periods of time will start to go green or develop sprouts, signs that there is an increase in these toxic substances.
Therefore, sprouted and green potatoes contain high amounts of solanine and should be avoided in both raw and cooked forms. Potato leaves should also never been consumed, as they are toxic in any form. While sweet potato leaves are safe to eat—and even sold in some grocery stores—consumption of leaves, green tubers, or new sprouts of a potato plant can lead to a high risk of potato plant poisoning.
While most evidence advises against eating potatoes raw, some research has suggested that digesting these resistant starches in small doses could have positive effects for colon cancer patients. Raw potatoes also contain more riboflavin, thiamine, and vitamin C than cooked potatoes and raw potatoes don’t increase blood sugar.
However, rather than digging in raw we’d suggest saving yourself from a potentially risky situation and digging into some (decidedly more tasty) Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes, Baked Hasselback Potatoes, or creamy Potato Soup instead. You can thank us later.