Here we are at the Idahoan Foods plant in Lewisville, Idaho! We have just learned how potatoes are dehydrated and made into potato flakes and dried potato slices. We also had a chance to taste some delicious new potato casseroles made with dehydrated potatoes. This was the last stop on our Idaho Potato Harvest Tour as we headed toward Victor, Idaho for a little relaxation time.
Idahoan was started over 50 years ago by businessmen and farmers who wanted to make great tasting instant mashed potatoes. I’m old enough to remember when instant mashed potatoes first came out. In fact, I was a little girl during the time in the 50’s and 60’s when families began to use boxed and canned foods more than homemade. Some of the foods were good, and some were just not as tasty as the real thing. Instant mashed potatoes were a real disappointment in those days. At the Idahoan plant we learned why that happened and how they corrected it. Have you tried some of the products made from dehydrated potatoes recently?
We weren’t allowed to take photos in the plant, but the tour at Idahoan Foods was one of the most interesting and informative to me. The plant manager met us in the conference room and talked us through the process of cooking potatoes in preparation for drying. Then we went inside the plant to see it for ourselves. We wore protective coats, ear plugs, earphones to hear our guide via a transmitter hooked to our pocket, and hard hats.
The potatoes are actually prepared the same way we would do them at home…sorted, washed in one area, the skins are blasted off the potatoes with heat. Potatoes are cut into uniform sizes and defective pieces are removed. When the potatoes are cooked they are actually cooked twice. Remember those pasty instant potatoes we didn’t like back in the 60’s? They figured out that over-cooking potatoes and then drying them causes the cell walls of the potato to break down so they won’t reconstitute properly with water. Idahoan product developers learned that if they cooked the potatoes, cooled them down, and then cooked them again the cell walls would remain intact and the instant mashed potatoes would be just as fluffy and tasty as homemade. Brilliant!
After the potatoes are cooked initially, they go through a machine with augers to mash them. Then they are spread in a thin layer over a huge roller that dries them into a very thin sheet that looks just like paper. We were each given a piece of that potato paper and told we could taste it. Of course, with no salt or seasoning it didn’t taste like much! The potato paper goes through another auger that breaks it up into flakes. Then it can be mixed with seasonings or other ingredients to make the various products that Idahoan has for sale. Some go into huge packages for food service, some are packaged for large club stores like Costco, and some are boxed for sale in grocery stores.
I have a new respect for dried potato products, knowing now that the potatoes retain most of their nutritional value. I’m thinking of seniors who don’t cook but who can use a hot pot, or children who may need a healthy snack. Campers, college students, people who must live in less than hospitable situations, could all use these products. Not only that but potato is gluten free and sugar free…I plan to experiment more with potato flakes in the future!
Another part of the Idahoan plant that fascinated me was the automation in place to ensure the quality of the products. We watched as an engineer adjusted the machine that detects defects in potato slices. As the slices were moved through the machine, they would leap across an open space where a camera would see the defect and send the information to a computer. Instantly a blast of air would shoot the defect out of the potato slice! Whacko! No more spot on that potato slice!
Did you know there are metal detectors in food processing plants? After the dried potatoes have been packaged the bags of product go through a metal detection system before they are put into the boxes. Can’t be too careful! That’s why we were asked to remove all our jewelry before we could tour the plant. Food safety is a huge priority, and for good reason!
The new Steakhouse casseroles made with red potatoes were very tasty. Dehydrated potato products have come a very long way since the days when boxed foods first made their appearance in the grocery stores.
It was time to get back on the bus and drive to Victor, Idaho. We noticed the changing landscape as we moved into higher country, and the potato fields were still too wet to harvest. We stopped at a beautiful scenic overlook to enjoy the beautiful Snake River below us and the changing leaves of autumn.
We all put on jackets because it was chilly up there! And of course, everyone wanted a “selfie” to put up on Instagram!
As we headed back to the bus for the last leg of our trip to Victor, we had no idea what awaited us at the Teton Springs Lodge. We were having a wonderful time together, grateful for this opportunity to see Idaho through the hospitality and generosity of the Idaho Potato Commission.
This old barn was a landmark that helped us know we had almost arrived at our destination. We would be spending the night at the Teton Springs Lodge, enjoying a reception prepared by Chef Rick Sordahl including appetizers and cocktails made from Idaho potatoes, and a farewell dinner in the evening.
Stay tuned for the final post … we were about to be treated to a wonderful night in a fantasy suite at Teton Springs Lodge!
to be continued….
Disclosure: I was treated to a expense-paid trip with other bloggers to celebrate the Idaho Potato Harvest. I was under no obligation to write this post and was not paid to write this post. All opinions and experiences are mine.