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Killer Potatoes

Potatoes have been causing death and destruction for many a year. Back in 1917 a potato shortage caused a bloody riot in Amsterdam – the unrest lasted for seven days during which time ten people were shot dead and over a hundred injured. And of course, this was a good few years after the potatoes wreaked havoc in Ireland.

I don’t want to dwell on the Irish potato famine firstly because it wasn’t a good moment in history and secondly if I start including famines into this top ten it’s going to get very dreary. However, there are a couple of interesting nuggets of potato that helped exacerbate the famine we might mention.

Like tomatoes, potatoes are also members of the nightshade family. Their leaves, stems and shoots have high concentrations of the toxin solanine (note to self: don’t eat leafy bits of a potato plant). If the tubers are left out in the sunlight for a while, they start to go green; they also start to produce solanine (note to self: don’t eat green potatoes).

Commercial varieties of potatoes are screened for solanine levels, and most have a solanine content of less than 0.2mg/g. However, potatoes that have been exposed to light and started to green can show concentrations of 1mg/g or more. In these situations a single unpeeled potato can result in a dangerous dose. The tubers will also start to produce toxins if they pick up a disease such as potato blight – the disease that caused the Irish potato famine.

A much more entertaining way that potatoes have caused death and destruction has been their central role in backfiring potato guns. No, these aren’t the kinds of potato guns that we used to have as nippers which feebly pinged tiny plugs of potato three feet in the direction of your unimpressed brother. These are the potato guns which involve a long chute, an amount of flammable material and a whole potato. The principle is to insert flammable liquid into the bottom of the chute, place the potato on top and stand the whole apparatus over a heat source. When the liquid catches light it explodes and sends the potato soaring into the heavens to the sound of your adoring friends singing your praises.

A simple procedure you might feel, but you’d be wrong. You’ll be amazed how many numpties manage to stuff it up and get their potato bazooka to backfire, killing, maiming and generally spreading destruction in their wake. The latest fatality to be reported was in Iowa just a few weeks ago on the 1st September. Another case worthy of a mention was a prime pillock who tried substituting a frog in for the potato. This modern-day genius then peered down his gun to see if it was working. It was. In a severe case of amphibian karma the old-enough-to-know-better fellow got a face full of frog and blinded himself.

And that, my friends, is why potatoes are my number one killer veg.

Back to Top Ten Deadly Vegetables

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15 Nov 2010
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