A woman in France recently learned the hard way that, if left unattended for too long, potatoes may start invading your kitchen.
In March, Donna Porée of Caen, France, left her apartment to stay with her boyfriend as the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of Europeans to shelter-in-place.
When she returned to her home in June, however, she was shocked to find that a few average potatoes she had purchased at the supermarket before she fled Caen had grown giant purple sprouts that resembled alien-like tentacles.
“As I opened the front door, I noticed a strange shape at the back of the kitchen,” Porée told The Sun. “As the light was off and shutters down, I didn’t realize it was the potatoes. It was only after opening the shutters that I took note of this extraordinary sight.”
The potato sprouts had grown so big and so strong that they had actually pierced through the seam attaching the counter kitchen to the wall.
Since mid-June, Porée's tweet has racked up over 196,000 likes and more than 60,000 retweets and comments.
“I was terrified at first, but after realizing what it was I laughed a lot and shared a video of the plant on Snapchat,” she said. “My friends couldn’t stop laughing. They found the whole situation unbelievable.”
Sure, plenty of home cooks have seen potatoes sprout before but, if left unchecked, could any average spud start taking over your home?
Paul Bethke, a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, said sprouting is just one of those things potatoes do.
“It’s not a one-of-a-kind thing — it’s not a weird mutant potato,” he told TODAY Food. In Porée's case, however, it turns out that both the time and the season created the ideal condition for these potatoes to sprout and shoot stems.
“It’s exactly the right time of year it would happen,” he explained, adding that the middle of March and early April is when potatoes are at the right stage of life in which they "want" to sprout.
The temperature also had an effect since the potatoes were left on a shelf, not in the refrigerator, as colder temperatures will slow down the sprouting process.
Bethke also surmised that the potatoes seen in the viral photos may have been organic as non-organic varieties are often treated with chemicals to prevent sprouting. The potatoes also appear to have been stored in a dark area.
“The sprouts, as they started to grow, behaved as if they were underground looking for sunlight,” he said. Since they never reached light, they just kept growing. The associate professor added that potatoes can keep sprouting as long as they have enough water within that potato spud to nourish the new growth. As the potato sprouts get bigger, the potato itself shrinks since the water and nutrients from it are being utilized by the sprouts.
Walter De Jong, an associate professor at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, shared a photo of something similar that happened to him.
In the spring of 2007, De Jong said he had a cooler of potatoes he had forgotten to clean out.
“We had turned the cooler off, so the temperature eventually became room temperature,” he said. “A few months later and … sprouts galore!”
While De Jong and Porée both experienced extreme cases of potatoes sprouting, plenty of people on social media have shared various ways in which their spuds grew alien-like protrusions.
When it comes to different varieties of potatoes, some will produce red or purple sprouts (like the ones seen in Porée's photos) and others will produce white ones (like the ones in De Jong’s photo). However, all varieties of potatoes have the ability to sprout when the right conditions are met, so don't fall for a non-sprouting spud.
If the viral photo is absolutely terrifying to you and you never want this to happen in your home, Bethke offered some advice: Buy only the amount of potatoes you're going to use in a few weeks if you’re storing them at room temperature. If the potatoes are being kept for a longer period of time, sprouting can be prevented by putting the potatoes in the refrigerator.