20 Interesting Facts About Potatoes

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potato

The potato is one of the most important staple foods in the world. Yet there is much more to this hearty tuber than meets the eye.

From its rich history to its nutritional benefits, the potato has some fascinating stories to tell. Here are 20 interesting potato facts that may surprise you:

1. Potatoes Originated in South America

Varieties
Potatoes Originated in South America

The potato first grew wild in the Andean mountain regions of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. This high-altitude climate provided ideal conditions for potatoes to thrive. Archaeological evidence shows that indigenous people living around Lake Titicaca began cultivating potatoes from wild varieties as early as 10,000 years ago.

This marked the start of potato farming, setting the stage for potatoes to become a staple crop. The potato’s South American origins are reflected in its scientific name Solanum tuberosum.

2. There are Over 200 Varieties of Edible Potatoes

potatoes variations

From starchy Russets to waxy Red Bliss, the potato aisle provides a rainbow of over 200 varieties to choose from. Potatoes fall into three main categories:

  • Starchy – Fluffy and ideal for baking, mashing, and frying. Examples: Russets, Yukon Golds.
  • Waxy – Firm, moist texture perfect for potato salads and roasting. Examples: Red Bliss, White Rose.
  • All-Purpose – A versatile balance of starchiness and moisture. Examples: Yukon Gold, Purple Peruvian.

3. Potatoes are Packed with Key Nutrients

Don’t let their starchy nature fool you – potatoes are an excellent source of various vitamins and minerals. Key nutrients found in potatoes:

NutrientAmount% Daily Value (DV)
Saturated Fat0 grams0%
Trans Fat0 grams0%
Cholesterol0 milligrams0%
Sodium0 milligrams0%
Total Carbohydrate26 grams9%
Dietary Fiber2 grams7%
Total Sugars1 gram
Protein3 grams
Vitamin D0 mcg0%
Calcium20 mg2%
Iron1.1 mg6%
Potassium620 mg15%
Vitamin C27 mg30%
Vitamin B60.2 mg10%

Please note that the “% Daily Value” (DV) for Total Sugars and Protein is not listed as they do not have established daily values.

Plus antioxidants like carotenoids and flavonoids. The skin contains concentrated amounts of iron, fiber, and vitamin C.

4. The Potato Plant Produces Vibrant Flowers

Flowering potato. Potato flowers blossom in sunlight grow in plant.
Flowering potato. Potato flowers blossom in sunlight grow in plant.

While we eat the underground tubers, potato plants also produce delicate flowers above ground. Depending on the variety, the blooms come in white, pink, red, blue or purple hues. Fun Fact: Historically, Andean women wore vibrant flowers in their hair.

5. Potatoes are Versatile in the Kitchen

From classic French fries to baked, mashed, and beyond, potatoes can be prepared deliciously in countless ways. Their fluffy texture takes well to bake while moist varieties retain their shape when boiled. Potatoes also make satisfying home fries, hash browns, and latkes.

6. Potatoes Should be Stored in a Cool, Dark Place

Potatoes Should be Stored in a Cool, Dark Place

To maximize freshness, tubers should be kept in complete darkness away from light. The ideal storage temperature is around 40°F. Avoid refrigerating them since cold converts starch to sugar, resulting in a sweet flavor. Also store potatoes away from onions, which accelerate sprouting.

7. The Incas Had Many Uses for Potatoes

The ancient Inca civilization relied heavily on potatoes as a staple crop. High in the Andes mountains, potatoes could thrive where other crops struggled. The Incas also figured out how to preserve potatoes by freeze-drying them into a form called chuño. Potatoes could then be stored for up to 4 years.

8. Potatoes Were Once Shunned in Europe

When potatoes were introduced to Europe from South America in the 16th century, many people refused to eat them. Dubbed the “devil’s apple,” potatoes were even blamed for causing illness and death. It wasn’t until the late 1700s that Europeans widely embraced the potato for its versatility and nutrition.

9. Ireland Suffered a Devastating Potato Famine

In the mid-1800s, Ireland was heavily dependent on potatoes as the staple crop for its population. When a deadly fungus called phytophthora infestans wiped out up to 75% of the potato crop from 1845-1849, mass starvation and disease resulted. The Irish potato famine claimed over 1 million lives.

10. Potatoes Have Surprising Medicinal Uses

Throughout history, potatoes have been employed for various medicinal purposes. Potato juice can help cure stomach ulcers. Tapeworms can be expelled by ingesting potatoes. Potatoes have also been used as a poultice for burns, headaches and skin inflammations.

11. Potato Plants Can Grow Over 15 Feet Tall

Given ideal conditions, potato plants can reach astonishing heights. Some heirloom varieties still grown in the Andes have grown over 15 feet tall! Potatoes continually produce tubers underground that give rise to more stems above ground, enabling vigorous upward growth.

12. Potatoes Contain Natural Toxins When Green

Aardappel groene knollen Solanum tuberosum
 Solanum tuberosum tubers exposed to light | commons.wikimedia.org

If exposed to light for too long, potatoes will produce chlorophyll and turn green. This indicates a high concentration of glycoalkaloids – toxic compounds produced as a defense mechanism. The green skin and any sprouts should be removed before eating.

13. The World’s Largest Potato Weighed Over 11 Pounds

In 2021, a gardener in New Zealand grew a Giant Potato variety that weighed an astonishing 18 pounds 4 ounces! This broke the previous Guinness World Record for largest potato, set by a British potato in 2011 that weighed 11 pounds 2 ounces.

14. Potatoes Have Been Taken into Space to Grow

NASA and other space agencies have experimented with growing potatoes in space. In 1995, potato plants were taken into orbit on the space shuttle Columbia to study the effects of zero gravity. The potatoes were later eaten by the crew once back on Earth.

15. Potatoes Can Power Light Bulbs

Young raw potatoes in bowl
Young raw potatoes in a bowl

Scientists have discovered potatoes make great natural batteries. Zinc and copper rods inserted into a raw potato can generate electricity that is sufficient to power an LED light bulb. Some elementary schools have used “potato batteries” for science experiments.

16. Potatoes Aid in Digestion

With their high fiber content and vitamin profile, potatoes can support good digestion. The insoluble fiber in their skin adds bulk to stool and relieves constipation. Potatoes also contain carbohydrates that feed beneficial bacteria in the intestines.

17. Potatoes Have Been Blamed for Causing Leprosy

When potatoes were first introduced to Europe, many avoided this strange new food out of fear it would cause leprosy. Some clergymen preached against eating potatoes, warning it could deform limbs and facial features. Of course, we now know potatoes have no relation to leprosy.

18. Potatoes Make Excellent Cleaning Sponges

potatoes

It turns out raw potato can serve as an effective and gentle scrubbing sponge. Rubbing a cut potato on surfaces like countertops, pans, and glasses will remove stains without scratching. The starch acts as a mild abrasive and the juice cuts through grease.

19. Thomas Jefferson is Credited with Introducing French Fries to America

As the story goes, Thomas Jefferson encountered fried potatoes called “frites” while serving as ambassador in France in the late 1700s. He brought the concept back to America, where fries likely first became popular at his lavish dinner parties. Thus, an iconic food was born!

Mr. Potato Head, the Radio City Rockettes, and the phrase “couch potato” show how the humble spud has secured a spot in pop culture. Ancient folklore tells of spirits living in potatoes, and dream interpretations consider potatoes a symbol of prosperity. Clearly, this tuber resonates deeply with our psyche!

From their ancient origins to their enduring popularity, potatoes have a rich history and importance across cultures. This hearty vegetable continues to be a major global food staple due to its versatility, nutrition, and sheer ability to fill hungry bellies. What’s your favorite way to enjoy potatoes?

FAQ

A: Potatoes were the first vegetable to be grown in space. They were also the first vegetable to be cultivated by humans, with evidence of potato cultivation dating back to 8,000 BC. Potatoes were worth their weight in gold to the Incas and Spanish conquistadors. There is even a dedicated potato museum in Idaho, where you can learn all about the history and facts of potatoes.

A: Potatoes are grown from tubers, which are basically the root of the potato plant. The tubers are planted in the ground, and as the plant grows, new potatoes form on the roots. The plants are usually grown from seed potatoes, which are specially selected potatoes that are saved specifically for planting purposes.

A: No, sweet potatoes are not actually potatoes. They are a completely different vegetable, although they are often mistaken for potatoes due to their similar appearance.

A: Idaho is the largest potato-producing state in the United States. It is known for its high-quality potatoes that are grown in the volcanic soil of the region.

A: The United States produces over 45 billion pounds of potatoes each year, making it one of the most widely consumed vegetables in the country.

A: There are many different varieties of potatoes, including red potatoes, yellow potatoes, russet potatoes, and purple potatoes. Each variety has its own unique flavor and texture.

A: Potatoes are a nutritious vegetable that is packed with vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. However, it’s important to note that the way potatoes are cooked can affect their nutritional value. Baking or steaming potatoes is a healthier option than deep frying them into potato chips.

A: It is best to avoid eating green potatoes, as they contain a toxin called solanine, which can cause digestive issues. If a potato has turned green, it is a sign that it has been exposed to light and has started to produce solanine.

A: National Potato Day is a holiday that celebrates the versatility and deliciousness of potatoes. It is observed on August 19th each year and is a great opportunity to enjoy your favorite potato dishes.

A: Potatoes originated from the Andes region of South America, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. They were brought back to Europe by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and quickly gained popularity as a valuable and nutritious food source.

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