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What's Up With Those Green Potato Chips You Sometimes Find?

??Well, they're not dyed for St. Patrick’s Day. These are just from potatoes in which chlorophyll had started to form. This can happen when potatoes, which grow underground, are exposed to too much light in the field or factory, in storage, on the store shelf, or in your home.

The USDA’s “Standards for Grades of Potatoes” consider a potato that’s more than 5 percent green to be damaged, and potato lots that contain them will be graded below US Grade #1. That means most green potatoes never even make it to market.

You’ll still see some every now and again, either in whole or chip form, if conditions in the potato chip plant, the grocery store, or your kitchen are right. Fluorescent lighting and a room temperature of at least 68°F can get the greening process going in a raw potato in just three to five days, and some varieties of potato will start turning in as little as 12 hours even under low incandescent lighting.

By itself, chlorophyll is nothing to be worried about; it’s tasteless and nontoxic. In the process of a potato going green, though, conditions are also right for it to synthesize more of a glycoalkaloid (alkaloid + sugar) poison called solanine, which potato plants produce in their leaves, stems, sprouts and flesh as a defense against insects and other predators. Ingesting solanine can cause nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, burning sensations in the throat, dysrhythmia, headaches, fever, hallucinations, jaundice, paralysis and death. Toxic levels for people are around one one-hundredth of an ounce for a 200-pound person, who would have to eat about 20 pounds of normal whole potatoes in one day to get sick. With very green potatoes, where the solanine level can increase ten-fold, only two pounds of spuds could leave you ill.

As for potato chips, solanine formation is localized near the potato's skin, usually no deeper than 3 mm. As they're peeled for processing, most of the flesh making up those three millimeters is typically removed. Whatever flecks of green are left are not going to be enough to do anything to you. So, go ahead - finish the whole bag if you want.

What About Dark Brown Potato Chips?

A different matter altogether. Brown potato chips are the result of potatoes being stored too long at low temperatures and accumulating excess sugar. When a potato chip is baked or fried, the sugar reacts with amino acids to produce that beautiful golden-brown color, but too much sugar leads to a very dark brown, almost burnt-looking, color and a slightly different, off flavor.

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Big Questions
Why Does the Queen Have Two Birthdays?
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CHRIS JACKSON, AFP/Getty Images

On April 21, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will turn 92 years old. To mark the occasion, there are usually a series of gun salutes around London: a 41 gun salute in Hyde Park, a 21 gun salute in Windsor Great Park, and a 62 gun salute at the Tower of London. For the most part, the monarch celebrates her big day privately. But on June 9, 2018, Her Majesty will parade through London as part of an opulent birthday celebration known as Trooping the Colour.

Queen Elizabeth, like many British monarchs before her, has two birthdays: the actual anniversary of the day she was born, and a separate day that is labeled her "official" birthday (usually the second Saturday in June). Why? Because April 21 is usually too cold for a proper parade.

The tradition started in 1748, with King George II, who had the misfortune of being born in chilly November. Rather than have his subjects risk catching colds, he combined his birthday celebration with the Trooping the Colour.

The parade itself had been part of British culture for almost a century by that time. At first it was strictly a military event, at which regiments displayed their flags—or "colours"—so that soldiers could familiarize themselves. But George was known as a formidable general after having led troops at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, so the military celebration seemed a fitting occasion onto which to graft his warm-weather birthday. Edward VII, who also had a November birthday, was the first to standardize the June Trooping the Colour and launched a tradition of a monarchical review of the troops that drew crowds of onlookers.

Even now, the date of the "official" birthday varies year to year. For the first seven years of her reign, Elizabeth II held her official birthday on a Thursday but has since switched over to Saturdays. And while the date is tied to the Trooping the Colour in the UK, Commonwealth nations around the world have their own criteria, which generally involve recognizing it as a public holiday.

Australia started recognizing an official birthday back in 1788, and all the provinces (save one) observe the Queen's Birthday on the second Monday in June, with Western Australia holding its celebrations on the last Monday of September or the first Monday of October.

In Canada, the official birthday has been set to align with the actual birth date of Queen Victoria—May 24, 1819—since 1845, and as such they celebrate so-called Victoria Day on May 24 or the Monday before.

In New Zealand, it's the first Monday in June, and in the Falkland Islands the actual day of the Queen's birth is celebrated publicly.

All in all, just another reason it's great to be Queen.

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Big Questions
What Is the Meaning Behind "420"?
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Whether or not you’re a marijuana enthusiast, you’re probably aware that today is an unofficial holiday for those who are. April 20—4/20—is a day when pot smokers around the world come together to, well, smoke pot. Others use the day to push for legalization, holding marches and rallies.

But why the code 420? There are a lot of theories as to why that particular number was chosen, but most of them are wrong. You may have heard that 420 is police code for possession, or maybe it’s the penal code for marijuana use. Both are false. There is a California Senate Bill 420 that refers to the use of medical marijuana, but the bill was named for the code, not the other way around.

As far as anyone can tell, the phrase started with a bunch of high school students. Back in 1971, a group of kids at San Rafael High School in San Rafael, California, got in the habit of meeting at 4:20 to smoke after school. When they’d see each other in the hallways during the day, their shorthand was “420 Louis,” meaning, “Let’s meet at the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 to smoke.”

Somehow, the phrase caught on—and when the Grateful Dead eventually picked it up, "420" spread through the greater community like wildfire. What began as a silly code passed between classes is now a worldwide event for smokers and legalization activists everywhere—not a bad accomplishment for a bunch of high school stoners.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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