Are Those Weird Sprouts On Your Potatoes Safe to Eat?

Let's talk about those sprouting spuds.

February 17, 2022
Photo by Getty Images

If I tallied the amount of time I’ve spent staring at potatoes, it would be hours. In that time I could have started to learn a new language, finally finished my stash of pandemic-purchased needlepoint canvases, properly trained for a marathon, perhaps even run said marathon. But instead, I stare at spuds of every color and creed—red potatoes, new potatoes, Yukon golds, baking potatoes, sweet potatoes (or are they yams?), and the large-and-in-charge russet. The problem is, eventually some start to stare back at me. What are those creepy little eyes sprouting chaotically from my potatoes? Should I cut them off? Are they safe to eat?

When potatoes start to sprout, they grow “eyes,” which tend to start off as small reddish-white bumps and can quickly turn into centimeters-long growths. But can you actually eat a sprouted potato? In short, yes, as long as you cut the sprouts away. Use a paring knife to remove the entire sprout and the small part of the potato from which it grows. And no, it’s not enough to just remove the eyes with a vegetable peeler as I have done time and time again. While it’s probably not going to be harmful if you eat a teeny tiny piece of the sprout (I’ve certainly done it and have lived to tell the tale), the best practice is to remove as much of it as you can. Once the sprout is thoroughly removed from the tater, they’ll be entirely safe to mash, roast, or bake, and eat.

I can’t imagine that you’d want to eat the large, bulbous sprouts, but if you’re considering it, don’t. The more sprouts there are on a potato, the less safe it becomes to eat.

So what exactly causes potatoes to grow small sprouts anyway? According to The Irish Times, a publication that I absolutely trust with anything related to potatoes, when the tubers are stored on your countertop or in a pantry, they are tricked into thinking it’s springtime. “People tend to have their houses at a temperature of around [68 degrees fahrenheit], which is the ideal growing temperature for potatoes,” explains Jenny McNally, a Dublin-based organic farmer. She explains that sprouting won’t change the flavor or structure of the potatoes, but they are unsightly and extreme sprouting may cause consumers to become sick. Spuds, they’re just like us: manifesting jean jacket weather no matter the time of year!

What are your favorite ways to cook with potatoes? Let us know in the comments below!
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Hannah February 27, 2022
When potatoes are grown in mass quantities, they are stored in a dark, cool, dry place that is about 32 to 40°F to keep them in their winter state when they are at the peak of growth. The winter state refrigeration keeps them in the best shape to be shipped to supermarkets. You could keep potatoes in you basement or your garage (if you have either) to keep them at this state longer. If they do grow eyes but are still firm upon squeezing them, it’s safe to scoop the eyes out and prepare potatoes as you would like.
Hannah February 27, 2022
As for potatoes making a person sick, extreme sprouting means the eyes are starting to look like roots, in which case throw the whole thing out or cut it up, dry it out, and plant a couple for yourself in a raised bed. Eyes are just the small bumps on the potato in it’s “early spring” state.
Hannah February 27, 2022
The comment thing cut me off. Meant to add “eyes are just the bumps on the potato in it’s “early spring” state and that’s when scooping them out is ok before preparation.
JoAnne L. February 24, 2022
When potatoes turn green they are not safe to eat. They contain solanine which causes stomach cramps, diarrhea, headaches and in large amounts can cause paralysis.
Miriam February 24, 2022
I’m a little disappointed with this article. What makes them unsafe to eat. “Makes you sick” doesn’t tell me much.
susan February 24, 2022
Why do you think these are dangerous to eat? You never provided a rationale for giving this advice.
Rachel February 18, 2022
You could also turn those cut-off bits into more potatoes!
- Cut the sprouts off with some potato still attached. Let it sit out for a day or two to dry.
- Plant cut side down, eyes/sprouts up, 4 inches deep, 1 foot apart, in a sunny spot. (Or plant one piece per 10-gallon container, with drainage.)
- Avoid watering until plant emerges, then water when top 2 inches of soil are dry.
- Mound up soil as the plant grows (to strengthen the plant, and to keep sun from shining on the new potatoes growing under the soil).
- Water more during the rapid growing season, and ease up before harvest to avoid rot.
- Dig up your free potatoes, or dump out your bucket/container, and enjoy!
M February 17, 2022
I've always just snapped them off since they disengage quite easily without leaving bits behind. It they are also soft/green/wrinkly, THEN I cut into the flesh.