There are few foods that have had a bigger impact on the human race. only rice, corn and wheat out sell the humble tuber, but when it comes to nutrition they all pale in comparison to the mighty potato.
Our history with the potato almost goes all the way back to the beginning of mankind. It is a past that has endured feast and famine, playing a vital role for billions of people as the best all round source of nutrition, and with our ability to cross breed and further improve the nutritional benefits, our apetite for potatoes shows no sign of slowing.
Our most reliable records suggest that the potato was discovered by pre-Inca Indians in the Andes mountains in South America.
Archaeological remains have been found dating from around 400 BCE in ruins near Bolivia. but it is believed that potatoes were going in the wild as far back as 5000 B.C.E
Cultivated by the Incas, potatoes influenced their whole lives. The Peruvian potato goddess was (Axomamma) depicted holding a potato plant in each hand (left). Her name translates to “potato mother,” and most villages had an odd-shaped potato they worshipped to ask Axomamma for a good harvest.
The Incan people greatly valued agricultural variety and grew thousand of different types of potatoes in a large range of shapes and colours. Incas not only grew and ate potatoes, they would regulary bury potatoes with their dead. The Incas believed that every crop had a protective spirit Known as Conopas. Conopas were the best proceeds of the crop that was set aside and offered up as a tribute to the gods during a special ceremony. They believed that in offering it to the gods it would maximize their yields of their future crops.
The South American Indians even measured time by the length of time it took to cook potatoes to various consistencies. Raw slices of potato placed on broken bones were thought to prevent rheumatism (A form of Arthritis).
The original potatoes, ranging from the size of a nut to a small apple, and ranging in colour from red and gold to blue and black, flourished in these temperate mountain conditions.
The first recorded information about the potato was written in 1553 by the Spanish conquistador Pedro Cieza de Leon and soon potatoes joined the treasures carried away by these Spanish invaders.
They soon became standard food rations on Spanish military and merchant ships. It wasn't long before people started to notice that the sailors who ate them did not suffer from scurvy.
The early Incas, 2,000 years ago, turned potatoes into a form of convenience food called chuno, by a process of natural freezing and drying which meant they could be kept for much longer.
Black Conopas (Above),White Conopas (Below) from the Brooklyn museum.
Usually made from animal fat, coca leaves, maize kernels, and seashells.
Historically there are three people that are to thank for the metoric rise of the potato in europe, they are Sir Francais Drake, Sir Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth l.
Firstly, there was Sir Francis Drake, he brought potatoes over from the new world (South America). Drake was an English explorer, naval officer and politician.
He is thought of as probably being the single greatest sailor of the Elizabethan era, mostly because he was the first captain to circumnavigate the globe. But he was also was a slave trader and pirate. He survived a mutiny onboard his flagship the Golden Hind, but died a couple of years later in 1596 died of dysentery.
Then there was Queen elizabeth the first. The daughter of Henry the 8th and his second wife Anne boleyn, she is regarded as one of the most important royals in history, amoungst other things she had a penchant for having people beheaded, her greatest victory was the defeat of the Spanish Armada.
She comissioned Sir Francis Drake to sail to the new world and bring back "foriegn delicacies". he brought back potatoes and tobacco amoungst other things during his 3 year expedition, after Drake gave them to Elizabeth, she then allowed Sir Walter Raleigh exclusive rights to grow them on his estate in Ireland.
Sir Walter Ralieigh was a solider, spy, politician, writer, poet amd explorer and landlord. He is one of the most notable people of the elizabethan era, he funded the first english colonies in America, he played a huge part in the Desmond rebellions in Ireland. He is also responsable for the myth of the fabled south american city of gold 'El Dorado'
In 1585, 2 weeks after Sir Francis Drake came back from his secret expedition, Queen Elizabeth gave Sir Walter Raleigh exclusive rights to grow potato crops on the 40,000 acres of land she gave him for his part in the desmond rebellion. which made him absurdly rich, until he was tried, convicted and eventually executed for treason.
Whilst there is undeniable proof that the Spanish conquestadors had brought potatoes and the spanish were cultivating them a full 15 years before Sir Francis Drake had even left on his secret expedition. the crop was very much kept within spain and not traded with other countries. It had also bulit a bit of a reputation throughout Spain and Germany. As part of the nightshade family, it was thought to be poisonous or to cause leprosy and syphilis and to be a dangerous aphrodisiac. It wasn't until Sir Walter Raleigh opened his trading routes with France, Greece, Italy and the rest of Europe that the spud really took off.
By the end of the 18th century, the potato was a major crop, particularly in Germany and Britain. But it was the Irish that really relied upon the crop, in fact 80 percent of the Irish peasants diet was potato. they were eating a daily average of ten potatoes per person, In addition, potatoes were fodder for their animals who provided their milk, meat and eggs. This total dependence proved to be disastrous for the Irish when the blight of "Phytophthora infestans" struck the potato harvest in three successive years. Also known as the Irish potato famine.
In the 1840s. about one million people died due to this disaster and it is hardly surprising that the potato became known as the white or Irish potato, to distinguish it from the sweet potato.
Ireland not with just the people that died because of the famine almost a quarter of the population fled the country to escape the disaster. The Irish took their love of the potato with them when they moved en-masse to England, as well as Europe and America.
The fear of another potato crop disaster through disease, along with the new-found appreciation of its table value caused intense interest in improving potato varieties throughout Europe. At the International Potato Show at London's Alexandra Palace in 1879 there were reputed to have been several hundred varieties on show. By the turn of the century the potato was the accepted main vegetable crop and was exported freely throughout Europe and the rest of the world.
Today the potato is the staple food for about two-thirds of the world's population and is man's most important food crop. nutritionallly it is the the single best all-round source of vitamins and minerals known to man. a field of potatoes produces more energy per acre per day than a field of any other crop. Growing potatoes is the planet's most efficient means of turning land, water and labour into an edible product.
Statistics for potato production around the world show that China is the world's largest potato producer with Poland, Russia and america not far behind them.
Consumption trends, however, are now changing the demands which are put upon potato growers, This is due mainly to the trend towards Mediterranean eating which is heavily based on alternative starch foods, such as pasta and rice. Although potatoes are still a major seller the bulk of those sold are pre-packed, many in the form of chips. Part of this consumption of chips is in a frozen form, and is worldwide, with America and the Far East setting the trend.
Cookery schools dedicated whole sections to the selection and cooking of the different potato varieties. Now, we are not suggest you need to learn all of the different types of potato, or every technique but a little knowledge goes a long way by selecting the right potato for the right cooking technique can really make a difference to your finished product.
We are going to share our cheat sheet to characteristic of some of the most popular potatoes and how they should be used in the kitchen.
What you need to know is that potatoes fall into one of three types: STARCHY, WAXY, and ALL-ROUND. Regardless what the potatoes you come across in the supermarket are named, if you can identify which type they are, you have the key to understanding the best way to cook those potatoes. Two main characteristics define each type: their starch content and moisture content.