Ugly veggies live it up with perfect puree and tasty vodka

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By Belinda Willis

Blind tastings to find the perfect potato vodka are revealing left over starch from making potato crisps is the choice ingredient for a top drop.

In fact, the starch cake sourced from PepsiCo’s Adelaide crisp factory is proving so good that Adelaide Hills Distillery is now working towards launching its unique new vodka in January.

“We’re creating a vodka with flavour that’s mindfully sourced and sustainably made,” Potatoes South Australia CEO Robbie Davis says.

It was Ms Davis’s peak industry body that began work on creating the unusual new vodka with Adelaide Hills Distillery and the University of Adelaide last year.

They won a $30,000 grant from the former Labor State Government with the idea of finding new ways to use potato waste, and soon began trials using potato peel, the starch cake left over after making crisps and potato water.

Potatoes SA CEO Robbie Davis. Photo: PIRSA.

“This is a vodka that tells a story,” Robbie says.

“This has a taste to it, it’s slightly earthy, and that’s what is unique; it has some flavour.”

The boutique spirit is a successful research and development project undertaken by the forward-thinking industry body that represents the state’s largest horticulture industry.

SA produces 80% of the nation’s fresh washed potatoes and Robbie is leading the charge to find fresh ways to slash the corresponding waste.

In 2016, she travelled to Europe to see how different countries were trying to reduce pre-farm gate food waste after being named the state’s Rural Woman of the Year.

Now, she is also a director on the new $133 million Fight Food Waste Cooperative Research Centre based at Adelaide’s Waite Institute that is targeting food waste and has 57 participants around Australia and overseas.

Who knew the humble potato could be so versatile!

She is also committed to another Potatoes SA project well underway with the university – this one focusing on scientifically creating a long-lasting, high-quality puree that ensures more “ugly potatoes” meet a more useful end.

At the moment, shoppers demanding perfect potatoes in supermarkets are forcing primary producers to bin up to 40% of produce.

This project takes on the ugly ducklings and purees them, skin and all.

“What we’ve perfected is a puree which is pure potato and some water with no added colour or preservatives and it will last a year if it’s chilled and has a shelf life of six months,” Robbie says.

“(Famed cook) Maggie Beer has bought the product and is very happy with it and has been using it in some of her products through the farm shop in the Barossa Valley.”

It has enormous export potential along with use in nursing homes and hospitals or in the baby or toddler food market.

Robbie says the university has been using it to make gnocchi, sorbet and meat pies as well as a gluten-free ingredient in bread and crackers.

A new company established by the association called Puree Australia is currently working out the best way to get the product to market so the industry can use more of the estimated 80,000 tonnes of potatoes that don’t make it into supermarkets each year.

Ugly potatoes are made into puree that’s used to make sorbet, gnocchi and meat pies.

It’s also triggered another collaborative research project with the University of Adelaide to develop nutrient dense foods for ageing South Australians.

Together with Test Kitchen SA, dietician Joyce Gibson, Obela Fresh Dips and Spreads and Thomas Farms Kitchen, the goal is to use the puree to develop a range of 10 nutrient-enriched, sophisticated and fun lifestyle-driven food products for ageing South Australians.

They include easy-to-swallow sauces, gravies, dips, spreads, desserts and smoothies with Robbie saying the work would look at ensuring older people can eat foods that satisfy their increasing need for protein.

“We want to see food in nursing homes, hospitals and residential villages that is beautiful, tastes yummy, has health claims and that isn’t stodge,” Robbie says.

She passionately believes SA’s economic future is tied to this kind of work, in producing food sustainably, innovatively and competitively.

That’s partly why the association is a Friend of Champions 12.3, a United Nations General Assembly working to halve waste by 2030 and reduce food loss along the value chain.

This month, those working to make that happen come together to celebrate all that is potato at the industry’s annual dinner at the National Wine Centre.

Among them will be some of the industry’s heavy hitters, The Mitolo Group, Zerella Fresh-Parilla Premium and Thomas Foods International Fresh Produce, with one of the key elements of the night – the auction of new season baby potatoes.

Last year, the 10kg lot sold for $10,250 with proceeds going to the Little Heroes Association, and Robbie hopes for an even larger bid this year.

“We’re always looking for more,” she adds.

Industry in focus: Agribusiness

Throughout the month of October, the state’s agribusiness industry will be under the magnifying glass as part of I Choose SA.

South Australian farmers, producers, agricultural researchers and biosecurity workers are the lifeblood of our country communities and are big players in the state’s overall economic welfare. Read more stories here.

Visit I Choose SA to meet the people building business and industry in SA, and to find out how your choices make a difference to our state.

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