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WSU-branded fries are on the menu at McDonald’s

Washington State University scientist Mark Pavek, center, and two tri-state potato research colleagues check out new potato varieties in a WSU research field.
Washington State University scientist Mark Pavek, center, and two tri-state potato research colleagues check out new potato varieties in a WSU research field. Courtesy

“Would you like fries with that?”

For Washington State University potato researchers, the answer is always yes.

Nobody in the world buys more potatoes than McDonald’s.

So it’s a big deal when the fast-food giant deems a new spud worthy of a ketchup dunking in its 36,615 restaurants worldwide.

Naturally, the company is picky about its potatoes.

In September, Ronald and friends added two new russet potato varieties developed in part by WSU professors in Pullman.

Potato researchers Rick Knowles and Mark Pavek are the french-fried masterminds behind the spuds.

“McDonald’s has expert tasters, kind of like with fine wine,” said horticulture professor Knowles. “Their gold standard potato for french fries is a Russet Burbank, which makes a great fry but is really inefficient from a production standpoint.”

“Burbank has disease issues and requires high soil fertility and water,” said Pavek, an associate professor. “And it has a lower yield of the highest-grade tubers because it’s susceptible to so many stress-related disorders.”

If this is about potatoes, then naturally Idaho is involved.

The WSU researchers worked with colleagues from the University of Idaho, U.S. Department of Agriculture and Oregon State University on the new potatoes.

The Clearwater Russet and Blazer Russet aren’t the first WSU-developed potatoes to be accepted by McDonald’s. Four out of the seven varieties the company uses were developed by the consortium also known as the Northwest Potato Variety Development Program.

The Clearwater Russet comes with a bonus: 33 percent more protein than Burbank.

“Potatoes are already very nutritious, with high levels of vitamin C and a good balance of amino acids,” Pavek said. “But Clearwater Russets are even better. It’s a nice little add-on to an already great potato.”

Seed production for the two new russets has been ramped up. That’s good for the program as it earns royalties on varieties it develops.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

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