Background: Higher plants evolved various strategies to adapt to chilling conditions. Among other transcriptional and metabolic responses to cold temperatures plants accumulate a range of solutes including sugars. The accumulation of the reducing sugars glucose and fructose in mature potato tubers during exposure to cold temperatures is referred to as cold induced sweetening (CIS). The molecular basis of CIS in potato tubers is of interest not only in basic research on plant adaptation to environmental stress but also in applied research, since high amounts of reducing sugars affect negatively the quality of processed food products such as potato chips. CIS-tolerance varies considerably among potato cultivars. Our objective was to identify by an unbiased approach genes and cellular processes influencing natural variation of tuber sugar content before and during cold storage in potato cultivars used in breeding programs. We compared by two-dimensional polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis the tuber proteomes of cultivars highly diverse for CIS. DNA polymorphisms in genomic sequences encoding differentially expressed proteins were tested for association with tuber starch content, starch yield and processing quality. Results: Pronounced natural variation of CIS was detected in tubers of a population of 40 tetraploid potato cultivars. Significant differences in protein expression were detected between CIS-tolerant and CIS-sensitive cultivars before the onset as well as during cold storage. Identifiable differential proteins corresponded to protease inhibitors, patatins, heat shock proteins, lipoxygenase, phospholipase A1 and leucine aminopeptidase (Lap). Association mapping based on single nucleotide polymorphisms supported a role of Lap in the natural variation of the quantitative traits tuber starch and sugar content. Conclusions: The combination of comparative proteomics and association genetics led to the discovery of novel candidate genes for influencing the natural variation of quantitative traits in potato tubers. One such gene was a leucine aminopeptidase not considered so far to play a role in starch sugar interconversion. Novel SNP's diagnostic for increased tuber starch content, starch yield and chip quality were identified, which are useful for selecting improved potato processing cultivars.