Real vs Fake Shetland Black

Real vs Fake Shetland Black

Four years ago, I was given a few Shetland Black “tatties” from my old Shetland neighbour and I have grown them ever since. My interest in potatoes has grown, and last year I bought Alan Romans’ The Potato Book. I realised the Shetland Black potato he describes is not the same I am growing, and that the official Shetland Black tattie registered is different. I have had the chance so speak to a lot of folk, and also to members of the Kenosha Potato group and this has strengthened my belief that the Shetland Black potato commercially available is different from the one grown by Shetland folk who have saved it themselves, sometimes for generations.

The “real” Shetland Black is round and knobbly (deep eyes) and very thick skinned. It is almost black and has the characteristic purple ring when it is cut, and some purple just beneath the skin too. It is very tasty, the flesh is whitish/light yellow and dense. It is one of the best keepers available, which was important back in the days when one had to produce their own food and store as much as they could for the long winter. Both male and female part of the flower the plant produces are fertile so it produces a lot berries, and therefore a lot of true potato seeds.

The “fake” Shetland Black (image from Suttonelms) is smooth and more oval in shape. The skin is thinner and more purple. It is not as prolific a berry setter. It has a purple ring when cut too.

Although I have known the difference for some time, it’s only relatively recently that it’s occurred to me that the real Shetland Black is in danger: because the potato registered officially is not the same, this means that it’s up to local and/or enlightened growers to keep it going, and there aren’t many of them. Most people, including Shetland folk, don’t know that the potato they buy is different from the one grown here.

I have contacted the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture and will see where that leads. In the meantime, the more people become aware, the better chance there is to safeguard this tasty piece of Shetland culture.


7 thoughts on “Real vs Fake Shetland Black

  1. I totally agree with these comments. I, by chance, found the ‘real’ Shetland Black a number of years ago. It was a small scrap of potato trying to grow in a skip. I planted it very late in the year and it produced two small potatoes which went on to produce the ones I have now, which are the same as the ones I remember from my childhood. The fake ones are very common and completely different.

  2. So where do we find the seed for these? Would love to try them on the Scottish Mainland, but what I see here looks like the “fake” type. Thank you!

    1. Hi Nancy,
      the best bet for now is to ask someone you know grows them… like myself 🙂 I could send you a couple of tatties to plant next year if you want. Send me your address through the contact email of the website.

  3. Hi everyone,

    I’ve been searching for proper Shetland Blacks for ages but haven’t managed to find any yet. I live in quite an exposed spot on the North York Moors and I think Shetland varieties would do really well here. Can anyone suggest somewhere/someone I might be able to get some from? Thanks in advance.

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