Food We Eat : Potato (Part 1 of 2)


potato_walkingThe funny thing about potatoes is, since we all grew up with them, we think we know all about ‘em. In fact, there is a lot of misinformation about potatoes; sometimes people think of them as a fattening starch, when in reality, they’re a healthy, fresh vegetable. 

The potato (Solanum tuberosum) belongs to the solanaceae family of flowering plants. It originated and was first domesticated in the Andes mountains of South America.

Potatoes produce more food per unit of water than any other major crop

The potato is the third most important food crop in the world after rice and wheat in terms of human consumption. More than a billion people worldwide eat potato, and global total crop Production exceeds 300 million metric tons.

There are more than 4,300 varieties of native potatoes, mostly found in the Andes. They come in many sizes and shapes

There are also over 180 wild potato species. Though they are too bitter to eat, their important biodiversity includes natural resistances to pests, diseases, and climatic conditions.

Potato is vegetatively propagated, meaning that a new plant can be grown from a potato or piece of potato, called a “seed”. The new plant can produce 5-20 new tubers, which will be genetic clones of the mother seed plant. Potato plants also produce flowers and berries that contain 100-400 botanical seeds. These can be planted to produce new tubers, which will be genetically different from the mother plant.

Potato Field : Courtesy : Wallpaper.net
Potato Field : Courtesy : Wallpaper.net

Potatoes can grow from sea level up to 4,700 meters above sea level; from southern Chile to Greenland. They are produced in over 100 countries worldwide.

One hectare of potato can yield two to four times the food quantity of grain crops. Potatoes produce more food per unit of water than any other major crop and are up to seven times more efficient in using water than cereals.

Since the early 1960s, the growth in potato production area has rapidly overtaken all other food crops in developing countries. It is a fundamental element in the food security for millions of people across South America, Africa, and Asia, including Central Asia.

potato plant

Origins of the Potato

The potato, from the perennial Solanum tuberosum, is the world’s fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize. The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C.

In 1536 Spanish Conquistadors conquered Peru, discovered the flavors of the potato, and carried them to Europe.  Before the end of the sixteenth century, families of Basque sailors began to cultivate potatoes along the Biscay coast of northern Spain.  Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland in 1589 on the 40,000 acres of land near Cork. It took nearly four decades for the potato to spread to the rest of Europe.

Eventually, agriculturalists in Europe found potatoes easier to grow and cultivate than other staple crops, such as wheat and oats. Most importantly, it became known that potatoes contained most of the vitamins needed for sustenance, and they could be provided to nearly 10 people for each acre of land cultivated.

fresh potato

In the 1840s a major outbreak of potato blight, a plant disease, swept through Europe, wiping out the potato crop in many countries. The Irish working class lived largely on potatoes and when the blight reached Ireland, their main staple food disappeared. This famine left many poverty-stricken families with no choice but to struggle to survive or emigrate out of Ireland. Over the course of the famine, almost one million people died from starvation or disease. Another one million people left Ireland, mostly for Canada and the United States.

Nutrition Facts

January-01-08-New-Potato-Label1Potatoes are an excellent, low fat source of carbohydrates, with one-fourth the calories of bread. Boiled, they have more protein than maize and nearly twice the calcium. An average serving of potatoes with the skin on provides about 10 percent of the recommended daily intake of fiber.

When boiled, a single medium sized potato contains about half the daily adult requirement of vitamin C, as well as significant amounts of iron, potassium and zinc. Potato also contains substantial amounts of vitamin B and valuable supplies of essential trace elements such as manganese, chromium, selenium and molybdenum. The high vitamin C content enhances iron absorption.

Potatoes have toxic components known as glycoalkaloids in leaves, sprouts, and stems, which are meant to protect the plant against fungi and insects. They can be removed by peeling and cutting away the green areas.

More and more, studies are showing they are a perfect fit for a healthy diet, assuming you go easy on the butter and sour cream. So-called “low-carb diets” love to malign potatoes. In fact, research shows potatoes are a great tool in weight loss. They are low in calories and are full of fiber, potassium and vitamin C.

Is naturally fat-free and sodium-free, Has only 110 calories, Contains 45% of the daily value for vitamin C, Is packed with as much or more potassium (620 mg) than either bananas, spinach, or broccoli, Provides 10 percent of the daily value of B6; and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium, phosphorous, iron, and zinc.

Some other interesting facts about Potato

  • Potatoes were the first vegetable grown in space
  • Potatoes are the best-selling side dish in American restaurants
  • Potatoes have one of the first commodity groups to develop and use an FDA-approved nutrition label
  • Only 19% of Americans rate potatoes as being “great” for gluten-free. Seriously? Potatoes are TOTALLY gluten-free.
  • Less than 3% of Americans meet the FDA guidelines for potassium intake. Quick, eat a potato!
  • Research suggests that diets rich in potassium and low in sodium reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke. Helloooooo potato!
  • Research also indicates that diets high in potassium-rich fruits and vegetables may help maintain lean body mass and bone
  • In addition to vitamins and minerals, potatoes also have an assortment of phytochemicals with antioxidant potential, most notably carotenoids and anthocyanins
  • Potatoes have shown to help keep you feeling full, longer. Great!

coming up in part 2, Potato in global agriculture, Adulteration, best ways to eat potatoes, and many facts..

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