Israel’s ‘slimming’ potato a hit abroad

The Vivaldi potato, which contains up to 38% less carbohydrates and half the calories of the average potato has been labelled the ‘slimming potato’ and a ‘dieter’s dream’ in the British media.A low-carb ‘diet’ potato grown in Israel has quickly …

The Vivaldi potato, which contains up to 38% less carbohydrates and half the calories of the average potato has been labelled the ‘slimming potato’ and a ‘dieter’s dream’ in the British media.A low-carb ‘diet’ potato grown in Israel has quickly become a staple on dinner plates in Great Britain.

With American consumers increasingly weight conscious, it is clearly only a matter of time before the ‘Vivaldi’ potato crosses the ocean to the other side.

In an age where the glycemic index (GI), which measures the amount of carbohydrates food contains, is the new diet phenomenon, the Vivaldi potato, which contains up to 38% less carbohydrates and half the calories of the average potato, has tremendous potential. Potatoes are known to be an excellent source of vitamin C and also contain vitamin E, B vitamins, and minerals calcium and magnesium. Tests are ongoing to ascertain the precise levels of these nutrients in Vivaldi, but these are not expected to be significantly less than in other varieties.

The potato is being grown in Israel by 13 kibbutzim that make up the Hevel Maon cooperative in the Western Negev desert. Due to its mild climate, Israel is a very attractive place for growing all kinds of spuds, according to Shimon Warshavsky, potato quality specialist at Hevel Maon’s research and development department. Because there are two Israeli potato ‘seasons’, consumers can have Israeli potatoes on their plates all year round.

“Our advantage is that it is never too cold for potatoes,” Warshavsky told ISRAEL21c. “We can grow two crops here. Some people are willing to pay higher prices for new potatoes all through the year.”

With temperatures never dropping below zero degrees centigrade (32 degrees Farenheit), there is never a problem of frost. And with rainfall as high as 250 millimeters a year, Hevel Maon grows around 150,000 tons of potatoes annually. Forty percent of the crop is exported, primarily to Western Europe and Russia, through Agrexco, Israel’s largest exporter of fresh agricultural produce worldwide, from flowers to plants. The time from the field to a European dinner table is only twelve days, quicker in holiday season.

The Vivaldi potato, which was originally developed by Lincolnshire, UK-based company Naturally Best, has been labelled the “slimming potato” and a “dieter’s dream” in the British media. Several years ago, the company’s breeders sent the potato to Hevel Maon, and today, they regularly receive new varieties and decide which strain they want to grow. As the demand increases, the Israeli farmers are growing larger and larger quantities.

“The Vivaldi variety is very nice, it is very tasty,” says Warshavsky. “It has a very smooth texture.” In a blind testing that Warshavsky carried out at Hevel Maon, “the Vivaldi came out on top,” he says.

Hevel Maon, which was established 50 years ago, permanently employs around a hundred people, but takes on an extra 300 workers in high season.

“It is our jubilee this year. In everything we do, we are either the largest in the country or among the largest,” said Washavsky. That includes 45 varieties of potatoes grown by all 13 kibbutzim on 10,000 of the total 52,000 dunams (around 6000 hectares) of land. In addition, the collective grows peanuts, radishes and carrots, for both the local and export markets – and is the only company in the country which grows parsnips.

Hevel Maon’s Vivaldi potatoes are being sold in Israel under the Dod Moshe (Uncle Moses) label. Israeli consumers are not as potato-savvy as their European counterparts, not generally caring about what particular variety they are eating. But Dod Moshe is trying to increase Israelis’ potato awareness.

“It is a very daring idea,” says Warshavsky. “We have started sending potatoes to the [local] market in the way they do it in the UK and Europe, packaged in different colors according to the different uses, with the variety identified on the bag.”

Could there be other potatoes in the future that are even more “dietetic” than the Vivaldi? “We are always experimenting with new varieties,” says Warshavsky. Innovation and improvement, he said, “is a permanent part of every crop.”