What are Purple Orchid Three Potatoes?

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  • Written By: Michael Pollick
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 October 2019
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Who says mutation caused by space radiation can't be tasty and delicious? Such is the case with an exotic strain of Chinese tubers called Purple Orchid Three potatoes, or so-called "space potatoes." Valentine's Day diners in Shanghai, China, were among the first consumers of these potatoes, developed by the Haikou Purple Orchid Company from seeds carried aboard the second Chinese manned spaceflight in October of 2005. The seed potatoes were part of agricultural experiments on the effect of gravity loss, cabin pressure, and space radiation on various staple crops. Once the germinated, the seed potatoes returned to Earth, and researchers discovered that the purple color was more intense and the texture of the potatoes was more glutinous than other strains.

The color purple is closely associated with both royalty and romance in Chinese culture, much like the color red in Western traditions. When word of an intensely purple sweet potato reached leading Chinese chefs, they collaborated on over 60 recipes featuring the tubers, emphasizing their significance as "space potatoes" created by the successful Chinese manned space program. These recipes ranged from appetizers to main courses to desserts, with even a few blended drink recipes along the way. One popular recipe turned out to be balls of cod wrapped in crispy chips made from the potatoes.


Sales of the new Purple Orchid Three potatoes received a second boost when they were featured extensively on Valentine's Day menus. Couples on romantic dates were treated to a number of dishes featuring them in place of the traditional sweet potatoes usually served during meals. Restaurants which promoted the unique potatoes reportedly went through hundreds of pounds of the mutated vegetables during the time of the "space potatoes" campaign.

There is some criticism of the Purple Orchid Three potatoes promotion, however. Some scientists say the same mutations and color variations could have been duplicated in Earth-bound laboratories, and local Chinese farmers have been producing purple-colored sweet potatoes for centuries. This is not the first time a product has been so closely associated with the Chinese space program, either. Sales of Kung Pao chicken skyrocketed after it was reported that the dish was a favorite on-board meal of a popular Chinese astronaut. Watermelons created from mutated seeds were also promoted heavily as "space watermelons," receiving much of the same media attention as the potatoes carried aboard the second mission.


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Post 2

I've seen purple potatoes before, they didn't taste any different to me, the consistency was the same. The only difference was the color, which stains so be careful!

How did they come up with the name? The Purple Orchid part I get, but why 3?

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