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Spud Spectroscopy: Determining Differences Between Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Posted on: November 30th, 2023


Every year on the fourth Thursday of November, Americans celebrate one of the country’s biggest holidays of the year: Thanksgiving. This event has been celebrated as a holiday nationally on and off since 1789 and was officially recognized as a federal holiday in 1870. Some of the most common Thanksgiving traditions include watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade or an American football game, gathering with family and friends, and eating a traditional Thanksgiving meal. This meal is centered around a whole turkey that is accompanied with sides such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, various casseroles, mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes, which are often mislabeled as yams. While the two potato varieties can be clearly differentiated by appearance, differences can also be determined through composition. Sweet potatoes contain slightly more sugar, more water, and less starch compared to their more common counterpart, and also contain a significant amount of vitamin A, whereas regular potatoes contain only trace amounts. With these differences in mind, we hope to quantify these differences through multiple spectroscopic techniques.

This experiment aims to determine differences between potatoes and sweet potatoes using absorbance and fluorescence spectroscopy. A small russet potato was used for the potato sample, and a small Beauregard sweet potato for the sweet potato sample. Absorbance spectra were taken of each sample to determine differences in sugar and water content, and fluorescence spectra were taken of each sample to determine differences in vitamin A content.

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