ABU DHABI // Locally grown potatoes could soon be a mainstay of menus and groceries, as a pilot scheme is expanded to more than 42 hectares of farmland.
Three types of potato will be grown - mondial and sagitta from Holland and safrane from France - in addition to the local variety, adora. All will be available as soon as May.
Mondial is ideal for boiling or mashing and sagitta is known to make excellent French fries. Safrane is a good multi-purpose potato, while adora is commonly advertised for boiling and baking, its high water content making it unsuitable for frying.
Adora is already widely used - including at the Hilton Dubai Creek, where Scott Price, the executive chef, describes the variety as "quite starchy, which is good for mashed potatoes".
Mondial may be even better, though, boiling very well and mashing smoothly with only a few ricey particles. It can also be used in salads, or roasted.
The new locally grown varieties are the result of the expansion of a pilot scheme run by Abu Dhabi's Farmers Services Centre (FSC), a government body which aims to modernise Abu Dhabi farms.
"The potato seed is very limited in Abu Dhabi," said Christopher Hirst, the centre's chief executive.
Last December the centre received its first 150 tonnes of imported mondial, adora and volumia potato seeds, which were used for commercial growing on 350 farms in Liwa and Delma Island.
It also brought in a small quantity of kenita, saggita, sifra and silvana seeds for trial crops. The trial and commercial crops together yielded 800 tonnes of potatoes.
While the four varieties chosen did well, the yield and quality of the others - volumia, kenita, sifra and silvana - were judged not worth pursuing, according to Martin Aguirre, FSC's operations and commercial director.
Now, 17 per cent of Abu Dhabi's open agricultural land has been put aside for potato cultivation, and will be planted out between now and mid-December. The first harvest - hoped to be up to 4,000 tonnes - is expected around next May.
Mr Hirst believes locally grown potatoes will be crucial to securing the nation's food supply, as the harvested tubers can be stored for up to eight months.
Up to now, almost all have been imported from Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Germany. In 2009, the UAE imported 90,500 tonnes of potatoes from Saudi Arabia alone.
The local potatoes could find a use in processed foods, too. Dubai's National Food Industries, whose brands include Mr Krisps and Bakemans, uses some 200 tonnes a month of potatoes to produce various snacks.
Currently, it uses imported Lady Rosetta potatoes, but a spokesman did not rule out using other varieties from local sources. "It would be useful for us and it could help reducing costs but we would have to test samples," said Lito Topecio.
According to the FSC, many retailers and catering companies in Abu Dhabi and Dubai have said they would be willing to sign up for local potatoes.