When I walked in the door, a nauseating wave of odor hit my face. Someone had either died or experienced terrible gastrointestinal distress or undergone both at once. Pulling my sweaty T-shirt over my nose, I tried to locate the source of the stench. This led me into the kitchen. Sometime in the few hours that we had been away, the potatoes had gone off.
But why are rotten potatoes so uniquely awful? The brown muck that forms inside bags of prewashed celery or the swarm of fruit flies that hover over bananas aren’t nearly as bad.
The fault seems to lie with a trio of organosulfur compounds. Methyl mercaptan can be detected in concentrations as low as one part per billion. Dimethyl trisulfide has an even stronger smell, detectable at 1 part per trillion, and attracts insects. Dimethyl sulfide is the reason potato odor is sometimes described in piscine terms, as it is responsible for the smell of the sea as well. The microbes that produce these compounds create such foul odors, in part, because they have longer to work. Spinach, bananas, and other produce are usually tossed before the microbes that create their stench have a chance to make themselves noticeable. Even when the butyric acid produced by those microbes has a chance to ferment, the smell is less pungent.
I suppose we can consider ourselves fortunate, in light of what happened to a Russian Tatar family in 2013. Four members, ranging in age from 18 to 63, were overcome by the gas from rotten potatoes stored in their basement. They went down there one at a time to rescue other family members. All perished, but the last family member to go down to the cellar left the door propped open, allowing the fumes to disperse. Similar accidents have been recorded at storage facilities where grain has fermented in the United States, but most cooks store potatoes in quantities that are too small to have a similar effect at home.
This blog will resume on Monday. Here are some cozy things I found interesting today:
Tech story of the day: Mozilla Firefox will start replacing 404 links with archived images, when available
Cooking video of the day: Peach Cobbler
Gardening tip of the day: August is a good time to fertilize Florida’s sandy soils in preparation for planting in the cooler months of fall
Interior of the day:
Cute cat of the day:
This little guy was found here