The Potato has been cultivated for at least 4,000 years and is believed to have
originated in the Andean Mountains of South America.
The ancient Aymara Indians developed over 200 varieties of potatoes before being
conquered by the Incas.
The English word "Potato" is derived from the Spanish word "Batata."
There is some debate over how and when the potato was introduced to Europe.
The Spanish claim that Gonzalo Jimenez de Quesada introduced the potato in
1550. However, the Irish claim it was Sir Walter Raleigh in 1585.
The potato was not popular in Europe for some time for various reasons. These
include the fact the potato is not mentioned in the bible, and it was erroneously
thought potatoes caused disease such as leprosy, and is related to the poisonous
nightshade plant (in fact, the potato greens are poisonous). At this point the potato
was grown as a livestock feed or for (mostly imaginary) medicinal purposes.
Potatoes eventually became popular as an agricultural crop. Some claim that Marie
Antoinette wore potato blossoms as a decoration and popularized the plant. Others
say that King Frederick promoted the potato because of its high nutritional value.
By the 1700's the potato had become a staple in Europe as it has several key
benefits: It is very nutritious, it can be grown underground and left there until
needed, (which kept them relatively safe from foraging armies and thieves, as well
as preserving them for some time), and they grow well in the European climate.
The first potatoes arrived in North America via Bermuda in 1621.
The Potato is the world's most important root/tuber crop. In fact, some sources
state that only corn, wheat and rice are more important to human civilization.
Potatoes are grown in more than 125 countries and eating by more than a billion
China leads the world in potato production with an annual harvest of about 72
million tons in 2007. Russia (36 million tons), India (26 million tons), the U.S. (20
million tons), and Ukraine (19 million tons) round out the top five producing
China leads the world in potato consumption (47 million tons). However, this is
due to its huge population. China isn't even in the top 10 regarding consumption
per capita. Belarus is the most potato loving country with about 181 kg consumed
per capita. Kyrgyzstan (143 kg), Ukraine (136 kg), Russia (131 kg), Poland (131 kg),
Rwanda (125 kg), Lithuania (116 kg), Latvia (114 kg), Kazakhstan (103 kg) and the
UK (102 kg) round out the top ten potato consuming countries per capita.
Potato cultivation is changing rapidly across the globe. Up to the early 1990's the
vast majority of potatoes were grown in Europe and North America, and the
former Soviet Union. However Asia, Africa, and South America have experienced
huge increases in production and consumption since then. Production in these
areas climbed from 30 million tons in the 1960's to 165 million tons in 2007.
The war of Bavarian Succession fought between 1778 and 1779 is also known as the
"Potato War". The soldiers on both sides were so famished, the spent much of the
time foraging for potatoes to stay alive.
Between 1845 and 1852 the potato crop in Ireland was devastated by a fungus
known as "potato blight" (Phytophthora infestans). At the time, the peasantry of
Ireland was very dependent upon the potato. The "Great Potato Famine," caused
a million deaths and another million emigrations (many to the U.S.). This caused
the population of Ireland to drop by 20 to 25% during this period.
The Potato is so closely related to the tomato, it is possible to graft a tomato "top"
onto a potato "root" and grow both tomatoes and potatoes on the same plant.
The Potato is 80% water.
French Fries are thought to have been popularized in America when Thomas
Jefferson served them at a Whitehouse dinner in 1802. Today, almost a third of the
U.S. Potato crop (29%) goes into making French Fries. McDonald's alone uses 7%
of the entire U.S. Potato crop for its fries.
The largest potato ever weighed 18 pounds, 4 ounces and was grown in England in
The potato was grown successfully grown in outer space on the space shuttle
Columbia in 1995.
Pringles made the world's largest potato chip in 1990. It measured 23 inches in
Potatoes have more potassium than a banana (21% of recommended daily intake),
more vitamin C than an orange (45% of recommended daily intake) and more fiber
than an apple. Yet the average potato has only about 100 calories. The high calorie
perception of potatoes is mostly due to the toppings (sour cream, butter, etc.)