Putting Potatoes on the Menu

Potatoes are from the Solanaceae or nightshade plant family, whose other members include pepperstomatoes, goji berriestomatillos, eggplants, petunias, and tobacco. Potatoes are the swollen portions of the underground stems, called tubers, which store food for the leafy portion of the plant. Potatoes are the world’s fourth-largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and corn.

Potatoes originated in what is now southern Peru, where they were domesticated 7,000 to 10,000 years ago. The Incas grew them, ate them, and worshiped them. They buried potatoes with their dead, stashed them in concealed bins for use in case of war or famine, dried them, and carried them on long journeys to eat on the way (dried or soaked in stew). Above 10,000 feet in altitude, potatoes exposed to the cold night air turned into chuño; which can be stored for years with no loss of nutritional value. Chuño fueled the workers in the silver mines in the 16th century. Ancient Inca potatoes had dark purplish skins and yellow flesh. The Incas called the potato papas, as they do today.

The 15th century brought the Age of Discovery to Europe. At the same time, Europe was experiencing the “Little Ice Age,” a period of climate change that lasted at least 300 years and was punctuated by several very cold years that led to crop failures and famines.

Spanish explorers first encountered potatoes when they arrived in Peru in 1532 in search of gold, and saw the Inca miners eating chuño. Sailors returning from Peru to Spain with silver probably brought corn and potatoes to eat on the trip. Pedro de Cieza de Leon (1518–1560), Spanish explorer and historian, wrote about potatoes in his Chronicles of Peru in 1540. In 1565, Spanish explorer, Gonzalo Jiminez de Quesada (1499-1579) took potatoes to Spain in lieu of the gold he did not find. The Spanish though that they were a kind of truffle and called them “tartuffo.” Potatoes were soon a standard ration on the Spanish ships, because the sailors who ate papas did not suffer from scurvy.

Potatoes entered the Canary Islands off the shores northwest Africa in 1567. After the arrival of the potato in Spain in 1570, a few Spanish farmers began to cultivate them on a small scale, mostly as food for livestock. The Spanish used potatoes to fuel their armies across Europe. In turn, potatoes were more difficult for foraging soldiers to pillage than above-ground crops, so they caught on with some farmers.

Potatoes arrived in Italy and England about 1585, in Belgium and Germany by 1587, in Austria about 1588, and in France around 1600. Wherever potatoes were introduced, they were  considered strange, poisonous, and evil. In France and elsewhere, potatoes were believed to cause not only leprosy, but also syphilis, narcosis, tuberculosis, early death, sterillity, and deviant sexuality. They were also believed to destroy the soil where they grew.

Potatoes likely arrived in western Ireland between 1588 and 1593, when Basque fishermen from Spain would land to dry their fish, although an Irish legend credits a shipwreck from the Armada in 1588, from which potatoes washed ashore.

In 1589, Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes to Ireland and planted them at his Irish estate at Myrtle Grove, Youghal, near Cork, Ireland. Legend has it that he gave a potato plant to Queen Elizabeth I, who threw a royal banquet featuring the potato in every course. Unfortunately, the cooks were unfamiliar with potatoes, and discarded the lumpy-looking tubers and brought to the royal table a dish of boiled stems and leaves (which are poisonous), which made everyone deathly ill. The potatoes were then banned from court.

By 1601, northern Italians and their domestic animals were eating potatoes.

Potatoes were first introduced to North America in the 1620s when the British governor of the Bahamas sent a gift box of them to the governor of the colony of Virginia.

By 1640, potatoes had entered Holland, Switzerland, and Portugal. While potatoes were consumed by some people in Italy and Germany, they were regarded with suspicion in most of Europe, and were used mostly as animal feed. In northern Europe, potatoes were grown in botanical gardens as a novelty. Even peasants refused to eat the unfamiliar tubers that had come from a “heathen” country. Because of the potato plant’s resemblance to its cousin, the deadly nightshade, and because deadly nightshade could produce the hallucination of flying, some people believed that potatoes were the creation of witches or demons.

Potatoes were introduced in China prior to 1644, and became a delicacy of the imperial family.

In England, the Revolutionary Wars (1640-1660) brought severe food shortages. In addition, the year 1650 was the start of one of the colder periods of the Little Ice Age.  The failures of crops during these periods prompted worldwide human migrations, along with the search for new sources of food. In 1662, the Royal Society recommended the cultivation of potatoes to the English government and the nation, but this recommendation had little impact.

Potatoes had been introduced to the North American colonies several times throughout the 17th century. They were not widely grown until 1719, when they were planted in Londonderry, New Hampshire, by Scotch-Irish immigrants, and from there spread across the nation.

In eastern France, potatoes were often the only crop remaining after marauding soldiers plundered wheat fields and vineyards. While the potato slowly gained ground in that region, it did not achieve widespread acceptance. Much of the French countryside in the early 18th century remained poor and overpopulated. The resistance of French peasants to adopt potatoes while continuing to rely on cereal crops led to repeated catastrophic famines long after they had ceased in the rest of Western Europe.  Making matters worse, in 1748 the French Parliament had actually forbidden the cultivation of potatoes on the grounds that it was thought to cause leprosy, among other things.

A French botanist named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737-1813) helped create demand for potatoes. While serving as an army pharmacist for France in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), Parmentier was captured by the Prussians five times. In the Prussian prison, he was forced to live on potatoes, which he had known in France only as hog feed. When Parmentier returned to Paris in 1763, he pursued his pioneering studies in nutritional chemistry.

Meanwhile, between 1755 and 1766, the Russian Senate considered the subject of potatoes 23 times. In 1765, Catherine the Great signed a decree ordering that all possible measures be taken to distribute “these healthy and nourishing vegetables” in Russia. That year, 57 kegs of German potatoes arrived in Moscow, which were distributed throughout the country. In addition, hundreds of sacks of potatoes were sent to the provinces, together with instructions on how the governors should distribute them. Many Russians ignored Catherine’s order. They were supported in their dissent by the Orthodox Church, which taught that potatoes were suspect because they were not mentioned in the Bible. In order to interest Russian peasants in cultivating potatoes, the Russian government launched a public relations and marketing campaign. Articles about potatoes in fashionable journals referred to it as a “marvelous flower” and “a cure for all ills” that could be used to make bread, porridge, dumplings, starch, and powder. The Senate ordered the Medical Collegium to publish special “Instructions on how to grow and use ‘earth apples,’ and how to store them in winter.” Ten thousand copies of the instructions were distributed, and funds were allocated to buy and distribute potatoes. In St. Petersburg, an economic society was formed that published scientific articles about the potato, its nutritious value and cooking qualities. One article by the scientist Ivan Komov said “no vegetable is more useful than the ‘earth apple,’” and that “these earth apples can substitute for bread.” It was not long before peasants discovered that one could make vodka from potatoes, and they began to grow them willingly.

The year 1770 marked the beginning of another very cold period during the Little Ice Age. Back in Paris, Parmentier entered a contest sponsored in 1772 by the Academy of Besançon to find a food “capable of reducing the calamities of famine.” Remembering his Prussian prison experience, he won the prize with his proposal to use potatoes as a source of nourishment for patients with dysentery. Thanks largely to Parmentier’s efforts, the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared potatoes edible in 1772. The peasants remained suspicious. So Parmentier developed the mashed potato, which made the suspect vegetable unrecognizable.

Frederick II “the Great” of Prussia (1712-1786) saw the potato’s potential to help protect his nation against famine. He issued a 1774 order for his subjects to grow potatoes under severe penalties, and he provided them cuttings. The people continued to resist, so rather than impose the severe penalties, Frederic engaged in a bit of reverse psychology and stealth marketing. He had one of his royal fields planted with potato plants and stationed a heavy guard to protect this field from thieves. Local peasants naturally assumed that anything worth guarding was valuable, and ended up sneaking into the fields and stealing the plants for their home gardens.

In 1785, the French experienced yet another year of bad harvests, and potatoes staved off famine in the north of France. Parmentier began a series of publicity stunts for which he remains notable today. He persuaded King Louis XVI  to let him plant 100 useless acres in Sablons in potatoes. Perhaps taking a page out of Frederick the Great’s playbook, Parmentier kept the field heavily guarded. This aroused public curiosity and the people decided that anything so carefully guarded must be valuable. One night Parmentier allowed the guards to go off duty, and the local farmers, as he had hoped, went into the field, confiscated the potatoes and planted them on their own farms. Parmentier hosted dinners at which potato dishes featured prominently and guests included celebrities such as Benjamin Franklin and Antoine Lavoisier. He gave bouquets of potato blossoms to the King and Queen. Louis XVI began wearing a potato flower boutonnière, Marie-Antoinette wore them in her hair, and others followed suit. Still, resistance continued, and Parmentier was prevented from using his test garden at the Invalides hospital, where he was pharmacist, by the religious community that owned the land, and their complaints led to his firing. Finally, after the French Revolution, the Republican government ordered potatoes to be grown on a large scale, even in the Tuileries Gardens. During the 1795 battle between the French Revolutionary troops and Royalist forces in the streets of Paris, staved off famine.

In 1795, the British Board of Agriculture issued a pamphlet entitled “Hints Respecting the Culture and Use of Potatoes,” followed by pro-potato editorials and potato recipes in The Times. Gradually, the working class British began to accept potatoes.

Potatoes were well-established as a crop in India by the late 18th century. After the 18th century, population increases led to the spread of potato farming throughout China.

Benjamin Thompson was a Massachusetts-born Lieutenant-Colonel in the Loyalist forces during the American Revolutionary War. After the end of the war, he moved to London, where he became a scientist and inventor and received a knighthood from King George III. He later moved to Bavaria, was made a Count of the Holy Roman Empire, and became known as Count Rumford. He was charged with providing the cheapest, most nutritious rations possible to people on welfare committed to workhouses. Rumford’s Soup, which he invented around 1800, was an early effort in scientific nutrition. It was made with potatoes, barley, peas, salt, and sour beer, and the Baviarian peasants adopted as a satisfying and inexpensive dish.

While potatoes spread slowly throughout the northern American colonies in limited quantities, potatoes did not become widely accepted in America until Thomas Jefferson served them to guests at the White House in 1802, prepared “in the French style.” Thereafter, the potato steadily gained in popularity, strengthened by a steady stream of Irish immigrants to the new nation.

Although potatoes were familiar in Russia by 1800, they were confined to small plots until the grain failure in 1838–1839 convinced Russians to plant potatoes in large fields. Potatoes were not widely cultivated in Russia until 1850, when Czar Nicholas I began to enforce Catherine the Great’s 1765 order. The year 1850 also marked the last cold spell of the Little Ice Age. During colder years when most other crops failed, potatoes kept entire populations fed.

In modern product development, there’s a saying: “Faster, better, cheaper—pick any two.” But in 19th century Europe, there was a product that met all those demands. Potatoes were better because they kept longer than other foods, and they yielded from two to four times more calories per acre than grain did. Potatoes produced abundantly with little effort, and adapt readily to many regions, as long as the climate is cool and moist enough. Potatoes were quicker to prepare than most staples, and quicker at satisfying hunger. And they were cheaper than other staples, such as rye bread, and didn’t require a mill for grinding. Along with corn and squash, which also originated in the Americas, potatoes became a staple food throughout Europe.

Potatoes had mostly replaced turnips in Europe by the 19th century. When the European diet expanded to include potatoes, not only were farmers able to produce much more food, they also gained protection against the catastrophe of a grain crop failure and famine. Highly nutritious potatoes also helped mitigate the effects of scurvy, tuberculosis, measles, and dysentery. Potato consumption led to higher birth rates and lower death rates, which created population explosions wherever potatoes traveled, particularly in continental Europe, the United States, and the British Empire.

Prior to 1800, the English diet had consisted of meat, bread, butter, and cheese. People didn’t eat very many vegetables, because they were considered nutritionally worthless and potentially harmful. This view began to change gradually in the late 1700s. At the same time as the populations of London, Liverpool, and Manchester were rapidly increasing, potatoes began to soar in popularity among working class people. The Industrial Revolution drew more and more people into crowded cities, where only the wealthy could afford homes with ovens or coal storage rooms, and people were working 12-16 hour days, which left them with little time or energy to prepare food. High yielding, easily prepared potatoes solved England’s food problems. The English were also rapidly acquiring a taste for potatoes, as is evidenced by potatoes’ increasing popularity in recipe books from the time. Vendors began selling “chips” (fried potatoes) wrapped in paper horns. Between 1801 and 1851, England and Wales experienced an unprecedented population explosion, with their combined population doubling to almost 18 million.

Before the widespread adoption of potatoes, France managed to produce just enough grain to feed itself each year, provided nothing went wrong, but something usually did. The precariousness of the food supply discouraged French farmers from experimenting with new crops or new farming techniques, because they couldn’t afford any failures. On top of hundreds of local famines, there were at least 40 outbreaks of serious, nationwide famine between 1500 and 1800. The benefits of potatoes, which yielded more food per acre than wheat and allowed farmers to cultivate a greater variety of crops for greater insurance against crop failure, were obvious wherever they were adopted. Potatoes became staples in the French diet in the form of soups, boiled potatoes, and pommes-frites. The spread of potato cultivation in the early years of the French Revolution allowed a nation that had suffered famine even in peacetime to expand its population during a decades-long period of political upheaval and war. Uncertain food supplies during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, combined with the tendency of other crops to be destroyed by soldiers, encouraged France’s neighbors to embrace potatoes as well. By the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, potatoes had become a staple food in the diets of most Europeans.

In England, potatoes promoted economic development by fueling the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. They served as a cheap source of calories and nutrients, and they were easy to grow in small urban yards. In northern England, which had abundant coal, potatoes provided for a population boom that meant plenty of workers for the new factories.

The first potatoes in Idaho were planted by a  Presbyterian missionary, Henry Harmon Spalding, who established a mission at Lapwai in 1836 to bring Christianity to the Nez Perce Indians. He wanted to demonstrate that they could provide food for themselves through agriculture rather than hunting and gathering. His first crop was a failure, but the second year the crop was good. After that, the potato growing ended for a number of years because the Indians massacred the people of a nearby mission, so Spalding left the area.

The most dramatic example of the potato’s potential to alter population patterns occurred in Ireland, where the potato had become a staple by 1800. The Irish population doubled to eight million between 1780 and 1841, without any significant economic change besides growing potatoes. The potato’s high yields allowed even the poorest farmers to produce more healthy food than they needed with scarcely any investment or hard labor. Even children could easily plant, harvest, and cook potatoes, which required no threshing, curing, or grinding. Potatoes greatly decreased infant mortality and encouraged early marriage. The Irish people were remarkably healthy on a diet that consisted almost entirely of potatoes.

Whereas most Europeans regarded potatoes with suspicion and had to be persuaded to eat them by the government, the Irish embraced them more passionately than anyone since the Incas. Potatoes were well suited to the Irish the soil and climate, and their high yield suited the most important concern of most Irish farmers: to feed their families. While potatoes were rapidly becoming an important food across Europe, in Ireland they were frequently the only food. Many Irish survived on potatoes and water. By the early 1840s, almost one-half of the Irish population had become entirely dependent upon the potato, specifically on just a single variety.

Land owners were mostly interested in producing cash crops, such as cattle and grain. Poor peasants in Ireland rented small plots from the land owners to sustain their own families. One acre of potatoes could feed an entire Irish family. By 1845, potatoes occupied one-third of Irish farm land, and most of it was a single variety: the Lumper, which yielded large crops and provided adequate calories. This lack of genetic diversity, however, led to disaster. In 1845, a fungus caused late blight spread rapidly through western Ireland, resulting in the crop failures that led to the Great Irish Famine. Between 1845 and 1849, approximately one million people died from starvation and disease in Ireland. The famine left many poverty-stricken families with no choice but to emigrate out of Ireland, and one and a half million of them did. Towns became deserted, and all the best shops closed because store owners were forced to emigrate due to the economic decline. Most of the emigrants left Ireland for North America and Australia. Over just a few years, the population of Ireland dropped by one half, from about 9 million to little more than 4 million.

Most Americans considered the potato as food for animals rather than for humans. As late as the middle of the 19th Century, the Farmer’s Manual recommended that potatoes “be grown near the hog pens as a convenience towards feeding the hogs.” It was not until the Russet Burbank potato was developed by American horticulturist Luther Burbank in 1872 that the Idaho potato industry really took off. Burbank, while trying to improve the Irish potato, developed a hybrid that was more disease resistant. He introduced the Burbank potato to Ireland to help combat the blight epidemic. He sold the rights to the Burbank potato for $150, which he used to travel to Santa Rosa, California. In Santa Rosa, he established a nursery garden, greenhouse, and experimental farms that have become famous throughout the world. By the early 1900s, the Russet Burbank potato began appearing throughout Idaho.

Potatoes are Canada’s most important vegetable crop. In the 1950s and 1960s, the popularity of French fries led to developing varieties specifically for that use.

Despite the advantages of potatoes, Africans did not grow potatoes in large quantities until the mid-20th century. In Rwanda, potatoes became a staple, contributed to population growth, and even became a cash crop.

potatoesToday, there are about about 100 varieties of edible potatoes. They vary in size, shape, color, starch content, maturity, and flavor. The skin of potatoes is generally brown, red, or yellow, and may be smooth or rough, while the flesh is yellow or white. There are also other varieties available that feature purple-grey skin and a beautiful deep violet flesh.

The average human now eats 73 pounds of potatoes per year. It is an important food staple and the number one vegetable crop in the world. Potatoes are available year-round as they are harvested somewhere every month of the year. It remains an essential crop in Europe (especially eastern and central Europe), where per capita production is still the highest in the world, but the most rapid expansion over the past few decades has been in Asia. China is now the world’s largest potato-producing country, and nearly a third of the world’s potatoes are harvested in China and India. The United Nations officially declared 2008 as the International Year of the Potato, to raise its profile in developing nations, calling the crop a “hidden treasure.”

Unfortunately, most people eat potatoes in the form of greasy French fries or potato chips, and they even load baked potatoes with fats. Such preparation can make even baked potatoes a potential contributor to a heart attack or stroke. But take away the extra fat, and a baked potato is an exceptionally healthful low-calorie, high-fiber food that offers significant protection against cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Potatoes are an excellent source of iodinevitamin C, vitamin B6, and potassium. They’re a very good source of manganese, fiber, niacin, folate, magnesium, and phosphorus. They’re a good source of iron, copper, proteinthiamine, pantothenic acid, choline, riboflavin, and vitamin K. Potatoes also contain a variety of antioxidant phytochemicals including carotenoids, flavonoids, caffeic acid, and oxalic acid, as well as unique antioxidant tuber storage proteins, such as patatin. In fact, there are at least 60 different kinds of phytochemicals and vitamins in the skins and flesh of 100 wild and commercially grown potatoes. The phenolic content of red and Norkota potatoes rivals that of broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts, and includes flavonoids with protective activity against cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and certain cancers. Potatoes  also have high levels of folate, quercetin, and kukoamines, which can lower your blood pressure. They also contain campesterol, which prevents the absorption of “bad” LDL cholesterol, balances blood cholesterol levels, and displays anti-inflammatory properties, which may make it beneficial for arthritis and cardiovascular diseases, among other health conditions.

A single medium baked potato contains 40% of your daily value of  iodine, nearly 28% of your vitamin C, and 27% of the daily value for vitamin B6, nearly 27% of the daily value for potassium, and 19% of manganese. A single baked potato also provides you with over 15% the daily value for fiber, but remember the fiber in potatoes is mostly in their skin. If you want the cholesterol-lowering, colon cancer preventing, and bowel supportive effects of fiber, be sure to eat the potato’s flavorful skin as well as its tender flesh. A medium-size baked potato provides 12% of the daily value for niacinfolatemagnesium, and phosphorus, and 10% of the daily value for iron and copper. It also supplies 9% of your daily need for protein, with just 8% of your daily calories. It provides 7% of the daily value of thiamine and pantothenic acid, 6% of the daily value of choline, 5% of the daily value of riboflavin and vitamin K, 4% of the daily value for zinc, and 3% of calcium. Potatoes are known for their carbohydrate content (12% of the daily value in a medium potato), which is mostly starch. A small but significant portion of this starch is resistant to digestion by enzymes in your stomach and small intestine, and it reaches the large intestine essentially intact. This resistant starch has similar health benefits as fiber: It provides bulk, offers protection against colon cancer, improves glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, lowers cholesterol and triglycerides, makes you feel full, and possibly even reduces fat storage. Cooking and then cooling potatoes significantly increases this resistant starch.

Nutrients in 1 Medium Baked Potato (flesh and skin) (173 grams)

Nutrient

Amount

DV

iodine

60 mcg

40%

vitamin C

16.61 mg

27.7%

vitamin B6

0.54 mg

27.0%

potassium

925.55 mg

26.4%

tryptophan

0.07 g

21.9%

manganese

0.38 mg

19.0%

fiber

3.81 g

15.2%

niacin

2.4 mg

12%

folate

48.4 mcg

12%

magnesium

48.4 mg

12%

phosphorus

121 mg

12%

iron

1.9 mg

10%

copper

0.2 mg

10%

protein

4.3 g

9%

Calories

161

8%

thiamine

0.1 mg

7%

pantothenic acid

0.7 mg

7%

choline

25.6 mg

6%

riboflavin

0.1 mg

5%

vitamin K

3.5 mcg

5%

zinc

0.6 mg

4%

calcium

25.9 mg

3%

sodium

17.3 mg

1%

selenium

0.7 mcg

1%

The following table shows the amino acid requirements of adults as recommended by the World Health Organization calculated for a 62-kilogram adult, and the amino acid profile of 2530 calories of baked potatoes (9 large baked potatoes), which comprise a day’s worth of calories for a 62-kilogram adult:

Essential Amino Acid Requirement mg/day/62 kg adult 9 large baked potatoes
Tryptophan 248 565
Threonine 930 1830
Isoleucine 1240 1830
Leucine 2418 2691
Lysine 1860 2933
Methionine+Cystine 930 1534
Phenylalanine+Tyrosine 1550 3553
Valine 1612 2682
Histidine 620 942

As you can see from the table above, you would get a sufficient amount of every essential amino acid by eating nothing but potatoes all day–and most of us don’t consider potatoes to be a particularly good source of protein.

Potatoes contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids, of which the most prevalent are solanine and chaconine. Solanine is also found in other plants in the family Solanaceae, which includes such plants as the deadly nightshade, henbane, and tobacco. Solanine imparts an undesirable taste, and can cause circulatory and respiratory depression, headaches, and diarrhea. These toxins, which protect the plant from its predators, are, in general, concentrated in its leaves, stems, sprouts, and fruits. Exposure to light, physical damage, and age increase glycoalkaloid content within the potato. Cooking at high temperatures (over 340 °F) partly destroys these toxins. However, no reported cases of potato poisoning have occurred in the U.S. in the last 50 years, and most cases involved eating green potatoes or drinking potato-leaf tea.

Potatoes are the number one vegetable crop in the world. They’re available year-round as they are harvested somewhere every month of the year. It is usually better to buy potatoes individually from a bulk display. Not only will this allow you to better inspect the potatoes for signs of decay or damage, but many times, plastic bags are not perforated and cause a build up of moisture that can negatively affect the potatoes. Potatoes should be firm, well shaped and relatively smooth, and should be free of decay. In addition, they should not be sprouting or have green coloration since this indicates that they may contain the toxic alkaloid solanine. According to the Environmental Working Group, potoates are among the 12 foods on which pesticide residues have been most frequently found, so buy organically grown potatoes.

Store mature potatoes at in a paper, canvas, or burlap bag, in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. Exposure to light causes them to turn green. The ideal way to store potatoes is in a dark, dry place between 45F to 50F (between 7-10C) as higher temperatures, even room temperature, will cause both mature and new potatoes to sprout, dehydrate, and shrivel prematurely. While most people do not have root cellars that provide this type of environment, to maximize the potato’s quality and storage, you should aim to find a place as close as possible to these conditions. Storing them in a cool, dark closet or basement may be suitable alternatives. Potatoes should definitely not be exposed to sunlight as this can cause the development of the toxic alkaloid solanine to form. Potatoes should not be stored in the refrigerator, as their starch content will turn to sugar, giving them an undesirable sweet taste, and they may develop dark spots. In addition, do not store potatoes near onions, as the gases that they each emit will cause the degradation of one another. Mature potatoes stored properly can keep up to two months. Check on the potatoes frequently, removing any that have sprouted or shriveled as spoiled ones can quickly affect the quality of the others. New potatoes are much more perishable and will only keep for one week. Cooked potatoes will keep fresh in the refrigerator for several days. Potatoes do not freeze well.

The potato skin is a concentrated source of dietary fiber, so to get the most nutritional value from this vegetable, don’t peel it and consume both the flesh and the skin. Just scrub the potato under cold running water right before cooking and then remove any deep eyes or bruises with a paring knife. If you must peel it, do so carefully with a vegetable peeler, only removing a thin layer of the skin and therefore retaining the nutrients that lie just below the skin. Potatoes should be cleaned and cut right before cooking in order to avoid the discoloration that occurs with exposure to air. If you cannot cook them immediately after cutting, place them in a bowl of cold water to which you have added a little bit of lemon juice, as this will prevent their flesh from darkening and will also help to maintain their shape during cooking. Because potatoes are also sensitive to certain metals that may cause them to discolor, avoid cooking them in iron or aluminum pots or using a carbon steel knife to cut them.

Aside from the alkaloids, raw potatoes also contain protease inhibitors, which can prevent you from breaking down protein, and resistant starches that you don’t digest well and can cause digestive upset. If you get enough nutrients from other parts of your diet, you should be fine eating raw potatoes occasionally, but you’ll get more nutrition out of them by cooking them to destroy the protease inhibitors and swell the starch granules. Boil potatoes between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on size and type, to become soft. You can also cook potatoes in a microwave oven, covered to prevent moisture from escaping, and still retain nearly all of their nutritional value. This method produces a dish very similar to a steamed potato, while retaining the appearance of a conventionally baked potato.

Whether mashed, baked, or roasted, people often consider potatoes as comfort food. This sentiment may have inspired the potato’s scientific name, Solanum tuberosum, because solanum is derived from a Latin word meaning “soothing.” Just avoid processed or fried potatoes. But fried, processed foods made with potatoes, such as potato chips and french fries, along with potatoes cooked at high temperatures, develop acrylamide, a potentially toxic and potentially cancer-causing substance. Potatoes that are boiled or steamed do not develop acrylamides.

Potatoes can be prepared in many ways. As potatoes have a neutral starchy flavor, they serve as a good complement to many meals. Their texture varies slightly depending upon their preparation, but it can be generally described as rich and creamy. Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes, and cashew milk together to make delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Season to taste. Potatoes are a featured ingredient in the classic dish, Salad Nicoise, that pairs new potatoes with steamed green beans dressed lightly with vinaigrette. Alternatively, you can toss steamed, diced potatoes with a dressing and fresh herbs of your choice.

Peruvians use potatoes in many dishes, as around 3,000 varieties are grown there. In Ecuador, potatoes are a staple in most dishes, and are featured in locro de papas, a thick soup of potatoes and squash.

A traditional Canary Islands dish is papas arrugadas (wrinkly potatoes). Patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce) are popular in Spanish tapas.

In the UK, potatoes are often served fried as chips. Roast potatoes are commonly served with a Sunday dinner, and mashed potatoes form a major component of several other traditional dishes such as shepherd’s pie and bubble and squeak (pan-fried leftover vegetables). New potatoes are often cooked with mint.

Scotts enjoy tattie scones made with potatoes. The Irish eat colcannon (mashed potato with shredded kale or cabbage and onion), champ (mashed potato with scallions), and boxty pancakes (grated potato pancakes).

Bryndzové halušky is the Slovakian national dish, made of a batter of flour and finely grated potatoes that is boiled to form dumplings. In Northern and Eastern Europe, especially in Scandinavian countries, Poland, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, new potatoes are a delicacy, boiled whole in their skins and served with dill. Puddings made from grated potatoes (kugelkugelis, and potato babka) are popular in Ashkenazi, Lithuanian, and Belarussian cuisine. Potatoes are also used to brew alcoholic beverages such as vodka.

In Western Europe, especially in Belgium, sliced potatoes are fried to create frieten, the original French fried potatoes. Stamppot, a traditional Dutch meal, is based on mashed potatoes mixed with vegetables. Pâté aux pommes de terre is a potato dish from central France.

In northern Italy, potatoes are used to make gnocchi, a type of pasta. Cooked and mashed potatoes or potato flour is used in the Knödel or dumpling eaten all over central and Eastern Europe, especially in Bavaria and Luxembourg. Potatoes are a main ingredient in many soups such as vichyssoise and Albanian potato and cabbage soup. In western Norway, komle (potato dumpling soup) is popular.

Mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, boiled or steamed potatoes, French-fries, cubed roasted potatoes, scalloped potatoes, home fries, and hash browns are all popular in North America. In New England “smashed potatoes” (a chunkier variation on mashed potatoes, with the skins) are popular. In central New York, salt potatoes are bite-size new potatoes boiled in water saturated with salt then served with melted butter. Latkes (fried potato pancakes) are also popular, especially during the festival of Hanukkah. Potatoes are also used as a stew ingredient.

In Canada, a traditional Acadian dish is poutine râpée. The Acadian poutine is a ball of grated and mashed potato, salted, and boiled, then eaten with salt and pepper or brown sugar. It may have originated from Klöße, prepared by early German settlers who lived in Acadia. 

In India, popular potato dishes are aloo ki sabzi (spiced potatoes in gravy), batata vada (mashed potato patties coated with chickpea flour, then deep-fried), vada pav (the aforementioned batata vada served as a sandwich), samosa (spicy mashed potato mixed with vegetables stuffed into dough, and deep fried) and aloo chaat (deep-fried potatoes served with chutney). In Northern India, alu dum (a spicy potato curry) and alu paratha (a stuffed chapatti) are popular. Masala dosa (a thin pancake made of rice and lentils rolled around a filling of spicy mashed potato) from South India is popular all over India. Other favorite dishes are alu tikki (potato patties), pakora (battered, deep-fried vegetables), and aloo posto (a curry with potatoes and poppy seeds).

Potatoes are used in northern China where rice is not easily grown, and where a popular dish is qīng jiāo tǔ dòu sī, made with green pepper, vinegar and a thin slices of potato. In the winter, roadside vendors in northern China also sell roasted potatoes.

In central Africa, potatoes are mashed with grains and legumes, or boiled or roasted and eaten whole.

And of course, everywhere, food has been globalized, so potatoes worldwide are now being used to produce French fries (also known as “chips”) and potato chips (also known as “crisps”). Try to avoid those, and enjoy a healthy potato often.

Recipe

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes


This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

This blog is not a substitute for the services of a trained health professional. Although we provide nutritional information, the information on this blog is for informational purposes only. No information offered by or through this blog shall be construed as or understood to be medical advice or care. None of the information on this blog should be used to diagnose or treat any health problem or disease. Consult with a health care provider before taking any product or using any information on this blog. Please discuss any concerns with your health care provider.

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