Potatoes belong to the nightshade family, which means they naturally have alkaloids in them.
Solanine is a kind of alkaloid that functions as an insecticide for the plant, but when its levels increase, it becomes toxic and causes the potato to rot (source: Web MD).
Rotten potatoes smell and taste bad. Most people describe the taste as sour, while some say the odor is musty. Judging from its appearance, you can tell that a potato has gone bad when it’s mushy and soft and has fuzzy mold growing on it.
I will talk about what rotten potatoes taste like, how they smell, and what may happen to you if you get potato poisoning. Then I will briefly discuss why rotten potato smell is toxic and what makes it smell so bad. Let’s dive right in!
What Do Rotten Potatoes Taste Like?
Rotten potatoes taste “sort of tangy and sour, not what you would expect from potatoes”. Potatoes are supposed to “have a subtly sweet mild taste with low sugar content”. They should feel quite starchy on the tongue and a bit creamy (sources: Acting Colleges, Ontario Potato Board)
Aside from tasting bad, another clue that potatoes have started to rot is the presence of a green hue on their skin – a sign that the potatoes may contain high levels of solanine. Scrape off this greenish discoloration because you might get solanine poisoning.
Solanine is a toxic substance that grows in sprouts and tubers, including potatoes. Solanine poisoning may cause any of the following (sources: Michigan State University, Mt. Sinai):
- Stomach pain
- Vision changes
- Slow pulse
- Loss of sensation
- Difficulty breathing
Sprouts are an additional sign that your potatoes may contain elevated solanine levels and are thus dangerous to eat. Pinch off the sprouts and discard them. The potatoes are safe to eat as long as the green parts and the sprouts are completely removed (source: Poison).
One way to keep your potatoes from developing sprouts and the greenish tinge is by storing them in a cool, dry, and dark place. Consider placing your potatoes inside a burlap or brown paper bag to keep light away.
If you don’t have a cool and dark space for storing your potatoes, buy only the amount you need so the potatoes are consumed at once (source: Michigan State University).
What Do Rotten Potatoes Smell Like?
Rotten potatoes “give off a bitter smell”. Others say that bad potatoes have a “moldy smell … a musty smell like mildew”. Some even go as far as to say that they “smell like a dead body, like an animal has perished inside your home.” (sources: Yahoo, Tips Bulletin, Trace Wellness).
Fresh potatoes give off an earthy, starchy, nutty scent. Some people say that it’s almost like the smell of fresh soil.
The bottom line is that if a potato smells different or unpleasant, don’t consume it. When in doubt, slice open the potato. If only a tiny bit looks bad, you can slice that part off, and the rest of the potato would still be safe to eat (source: Farmhouse Guide).
Throw out potatoes at the first hint of an extremely foul odor. The unpleasant smell is an indication of the presence of high solanine levels.
To help avoid premature rotting of your potatoes, keep them away from light, whether natural or fluorescent. Light is what encourages the proliferation of solanine.
Is Rotten Potato Smell Toxic?
The rotten potato smell is toxic. Experts say that “Rotting potatoes give off a noxious solanine gas that can make a person unconscious if they’ve inhaled enough” (source: Best Life Online).
Experts warn about storing potatoes for too long in dark, cold locations. It is best to regularly inspect the potatoes and throw away any that exhibit signs of going bad.
If you find a whole bunch of potatoes that have started to sprout, turn green, and rot, ventilate the area at once to get rid of the foul, harmful odor from solanine. This toxic substance creates fumes, and inhaling too much of it can make you sick.
Why Do Rotten Potatoes Smell So Bad?
Rotten potatoes smell so bad because of solanine, a type of glycoalkaloid. These natural compounds usually occur in potatoes. When their concentration increases due to light and poor storage conditions, they emit a foul and harmful odor (source: Centre for Food Safety).
The shelf life of potatoes depends a lot on how they are stored and whether they have been cooked or not. Uncooked potatoes can last 2-3 months, especially if they are stored in a place that’s dark and cooler than the average room temperature.
On the other hand, cooked potatoes will last about 3-4 days in the fridge and 10-12 months in the freezer.
You can quickly tell if your potatoes have gone bad by merely looking at them and smelling them. When in doubt, it would be best to throw away questionable-looking and foul-smelling potatoes. If it smells bad, it’s not going to taste good!