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The Secret of the Humble Spud

The humble spud is possibly the most popular vegetable eaten in Britain and by expat British people around the world. We usually think of the potato as a carbohydrate – a source of energy. It is an essential component of many British meals from fish to chips to the famous roast beef Sunday dinner.

Whether you choose King Edwards, Maris Piper or the delicious Jersey new potato you might be getting an added bonus that you weren't expecting – vitamin C. Yes, our spuds can provide you with a healthy dose of nutrients as well as giving you that nice satisfying feeling of having a full stomach. But, before you munch down those french fries beware, special care must be taken to preserve the vitamin content of potatoes.

Natural Vitamins Are Best

As we noted in a previous post (see Limey Chicken & Rice) the English have been called “Limey's” by Americans since the 18th century. Limes (or was it really unripe lemons) were carried on board Royal Navy ships as a source of vitamin C to prevent scurvy among British sailors.

Scurvy is almost unheard of in modern, industrialized western nations, but we haven't lost our appreciation for vitamin C. When the human body receives an adequate and regular supply of vitamin C, it is better able to resist many ailments such as the common cold.

We can get our vitamin C from supplements, but the expense of buying supplementary vitamins can be avoided if enough natural vitamin C is consumed in the diet. So what foods contain natural vitamin C and how can we prepare them in a manner that preserves the valuable vitamins?

Vitamin C is Easily Destroyed

Unfortunately, vitamin C is easily destroyed. Excessive cooking and even prolonged storage can deplete or eliminate natural vitamin C in our food. The best way to enjoy the benefit of natural vitamins is to harvest fruit and vegetables directly from your own garden. The richest sources of vitamin C are citrus fruits, green veggies, tomatoes, melon and canteloupes. Two of the best sources are most commonly found in the UK: rosehips and blackcurrants.

Vitamin C is an acid and can be neutralized in the presence of an alkali such as soda. It can also be destroyed by boiling or prolonged exposure to air. Out-of-season veggies shipped from a distant continent may seem appealing but may not be as rich in vitamins as you might hope.

Don't Bash Those Spuds

Potatoes contain less vitamin C than some other foods, such as citrus fruits. However, because our diet often contains a high proportion of potatoes they remain an effective source of vitamin C. Potatoes lose 25% of their vitamin C if they are peeled before boiling. If they are left unpeeled before boiling they lose only 10%. If they are steamed, unpeeled, they lose none of their vitamin C.

Try steaming chopped, unpeeled potatoes, then sautéing them by quick frying in very hot olive oil. The result is golden potatoes with the same appearance as roast potatoes, but with most, or all, of the vitamin C preserved. Sauteed steamed potatoes make an excellent and nutritious accompaniment to the traditional British roast beef Sunday dinner.

The Goodness of an English Country Garden

Many imported British foods, such as blackcurrant flavoured teas and beverages are enriched with additional vitamin C and provide both the taste and nutrition you expect. But there is really no substitute for fresh produce from an English country garden.

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