Organically and conventionally grown potatoes may be told apart by flavour, say the US researchers, but only if the potato skins are left on.
According to lead author Matthew Kleinhenz, it may be the glycoalkaloids (natural protective agents in potato plants and tubers), which can impart a bitter taste, that are responsible for the perceived flavour differences, as glycoalkaloids are thought to move from outer (such as skin) to inner (such as flesh) layers of potatoes during boiling.
"The results provide additional evidence that linkages exist between the methods used to grow crops and the responses consumers may have when eating them," said Dr Kleinhenz, based at the department of horticulture and crop science at Ohio university.
He believes science should investigate these linkages within the context of management systems, including organic. The goal would be to design cultivation systems that optimise the quality - sensory and nutritional properties - of vegetables and other crops.
For the small study, a panel of fifteen taste testers was asked to evaluate boiled samples of potatoes that had been grown organically with compost, organically without compost or conventionally.
Dark Red Norland potatoes - the most popular redskin potato in the US - were evaluated.
The scientists used the 'triangle test' method to evaluate the panel's responses, which involves tasting three samples, two of which are identical and one of which is different. The test is repeated to ensure that the panellist is not identifying the 'odd one out' by luck.
But the panellists were merely looking for taste differences - they did not know how the potatoes had been grown.
When the potatoes had been peeled prior to cooking, panellists could not distinguish between the conventionally and organically grown potatoes.
But when the skins were left on, according to the results, panellists tended to be able to identify a difference between the conventionally and organically grown potatoes. However, in similar tests, fewer panellists differentiated between organic potatoes grown with / without compost.
"The data suggest that, in this study, the ability of panellists to consistently differentiate samples depended on whether the skin of the tubers had been removed before boiling," said Dr Kleinhenz.
Full findings are published in the February issue of the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture.