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Sunday, 16 April 2017



The Andean Mountains of South America was the birthplace of the white potato. By around 2000BC The Aymara Indians had developed over two hundred varieties on the Titicaca Plateau at elevations above 10,000 feet.

The influence of potatoes permeated the Incan culture in medieval Peru. For instance, Incan units of time correlated to how long it takes for a potato to cook to various consistencies. Potatoes were even used to divine the truth and predict weather.

The Incas stored their potatoes and other food crops on the Andean mountain heights. The cold mountain temperature freezed the food and the water inside slowly vaporised under the low air pressure of the high altitudes. This was the first instance of freeze drying food.

The 16th century Spanish invaders in South America first came across the potato when entering a Colombian village from which the inhabitants had fled. They originally thought they were truffles.

The Spanish introduced the potato to Europe. They became a standard supply item on the Spanish ships as it was noticed that the sailors who ate potatoes did not suffer from scurvy.

Thomas Harriot was credited with bringing the first potato to Britain on July 28, 1586. The mathematician, astronomer and translator had just returned from Sir Walter Raleigh’s English colony on Roanoke Island in modern-day North Carolina, where he had made detailed studies of the wildlife.

Despite their use by Spanish sailors  most Europeans were originally suspicious of them, in part because people realized that the potato is a member of the nightshade family, all of which are very poisonous.

For the next 200 years it was generally damned as an evil food in Europe. The Scots refused to eat the potato because it wasn't mentioned in the Bible and in other European countries they were blamed for starting outbreaks of leprosy and syphilis.

By the late 17th century the Irish had recognized the food value of potatoes and became the first country in Europe to plant them as a staple food crop rather than using it primarily as animal fodder. And in 1719 the first permanent potato patches in North America were established near Londonderry, New Hampshire.

In the mid 18th century the Prussian ruler, Frederick the Great ordered his people to plant and eat potatoes, as a deterrent to famine. The people's fear of poisoning forced him to enforce his orders by threatening to cut off the nose and ears of those who refused. Unsurprisingly, this was effective and with a decade potatoes became a basic part of the Prussian diet.

Later in the 18th century a young French agriculturist and chemist, Antoine Augustin Parmentier, made it his mission to popularize the potato after his experience as prisoner of war in Prussia when the spud was part of his diet. He wrote books and pamphlets to dispel the beliefs of many that potatoes causes leprosy and fevers and even persuaded the queen, Marie Antoinette to wear potato flowers to ornament her dress.

Parmentier achieved his goals, and by the 1780s potato dishes were being created in great varieties and the humble spud had even become a delicacy enjoyed by the nobility. Meanwhile the French populace was coveting potatoes for themselves and by the end of the century most of Europe were eating them.

In the late 18th century, Belgian street vendors were selling thin fried potatoes called "Belgian fries" from pushcarts and soon the French adapted the idea and their version became known as "French Fries".

 In 1789 Thomas Jefferson brought back with him to America the joys of fried potatoes after sampling them in Paris. He described them as "potatoes, fried in the French manner" with beefsteak.

In the 1860s the popularity of fried potatoes in England increased as a result of the opening of fish and chip shops such as Joseph Malin's in London.

Ioannis Kapodistrias, an early 19th century governor of Greece, introduced potatoes to the country. Initially, he tried giving seed potatoes to skeptical farmers. When this failed, he piled them in public under guard, convincing people of their value. They stole the potatoes and planted them.

In early 19th century Ireland, potatoes were the mainstay of the diet of poor peasants. However between 1845-48 there was a crop crisis caused by potato blight and the ensuing famine was extreme.

A potato ruined by late blight

The famine devastated the crop and depopulated the island. Some 750,000 people died and over one million emigrated, most of them to the United States. As a result the Irish adopted a more cautious attitude toward dependence on potatoes.

During the 1898 Alaskan Klondike gold rush, potatoes were virtually as valuable as gold. Potatoes were so esteemed for their nutritious content that miners were trading gold for potatoes.

In Britain during the Second World War there was a Ministry of Food campaign which used the slogan, " potatoes are good for you." This proved so successful that a new campaign had to be started saying "potatoes are fattening."

In 1974, an Englishman named Eric Jenkins grew 370 pounds of potatoes from one plant.

In 1995 the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA and the University of Wisconsin, Madison created the technology with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages, and eventually, feeding future space colonies.


The English word potato comes from the Spanish patata.

The name spud is understood to come from a sharp implement of the same name used to create a hole in the soil before planting.

There are 5,000 varieties of potato worldwide, of which 3,000 are found only in the Andes where a single valley can contain 100 different types.

In Western Australia, it’s illegal to possess more than 50 kgs/110lbs  of potatoes. The reason is tied to the farmers’ monopoly and a desire to keep supply low, and prices and quality high.

The world's biggest potato weighed 18 pounds, 4 ounces, according to Guinness Book of World Records. Seventy-three medium fries at McDonald's could be sold with that big of a spud.

About 3 billion pounds of potatoes are used to make McDonald’s fries every year; this is about 8% of all potatoes grown in the United States or a half a percent of all potatoes grown in the world per year.

Ten per cent of Britain’s potato crop goes to fish and chip shops.

China grows 88.99 million metric tons of potatoes per year, accounting for 22% of the world’s potato supply.

Potatoes have more potassium than bananas.

Potatoes should never be refrigerated. Not only does it ruin the flavor, it produces high levels of a carcinogen called acrylamide.

Potatoes absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same way as the human body does.

Source Food For Thought: Extraordinary Little Chronicles of the World by Ed Pearce

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