Eating History - The Potato


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This root vegetable is probably one of the most widely used vegetables in our modern world. It has come a long way from its air thin origins in the South American mountain ranges.

Long before the potato reached the shores of the Emerald Isle, it was widely cultivated some 7,000 years before its introduction in Europe. The Western World didn't even come across it until about the mid-sixteenth century and it would not make it to the Old World for another couple of decades.

This rugged tuber met resistance at first. The potato was thought to be poisonous due to the fact that it is a member of the poisonous “Nightshade" family. A green potato for example, contains a substance called “solanine" which tastes bitter and can make humans ill. When first introduced to the Old World, it was used to feed prisoners and the infirm.

It wasn't until the late eighteenth century that the potato would be elevated from its lowly station. Ireland began to cultivate the potato around 1780. The Irish became so dependent on it that this dependence lead to a population explosion resulting in famine. The Irish Potato Famine hit around 1845. Like the plagues of Ancient Egypt, a fungus wiped out the potato crop. People starved or ate grass and weeds to ward off hunger. Many people died and many more would leave Ireland in search of a better life in the New World. Today the potato has become a staple in many countries including the United States, where it is now grown in all 50 states.

Did you know?

  • Potatoes are grown in over 125 countries throughout the world.
  • Germans eat twice as many potatoes as Americans do. Americans eat an average of about 125 pounds per year!
  • It is said that Thomas Jefferson introduced “French Fries" to America after serving them at a White House Dinner.
  • The potato is about 80% water and 20% solids.
  • An 8-ounce baked or boiled potato has only about 100 calories.

Paul Rinehart is classically trained and is the founder of Online Cooking .

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