Our general, world culture tends to think of the potato as a long accepted staple of the modern, known world diet. However, that is certainly not the case. The potato is believed to have originally been first growing in the Andes, as far back as 7,000 to 8,000 years ago. It was noted for its hardiness and ability to grow at very high locations–in excess of 15,000 feet– and was a very hardy staple. The potato was obviously able to withstand the extreme temperatures and thin atmosphere of the Andes Mountains.
It was sometime in the 1500’s that the potato first became known to the “non-American man.” That occurred when the Conquistadors first tramped through Peru. They noted the potato’s ability to be easily stored for long periods of time and its nutritional value. As a result, the potato tramped its way across to the European continent.
It would take at least three decades for the potato to spread to the rest of Europe. Even so, the potato was cultivated primarily as a curiosity, by amateur botanists. Resistance to acceptance was due to their ingrained eating habits, the tuber’s reputation as a food for the under-privileged and, perhaps most importantly, its relationship to poisonous plants. The potato is actually a member of the nightshade family and its leaves are, indeed, poisonous. A potato left too long in the light will begin to turn green. The green skin contains a substance called solanine, which can cause the potato to taste bitter and even cause illness in humans.
It would be in the late 1780’s before the potato started to gain acceptance in the Western world. Soon the potato would gain wide acceptance across Europe and eventually make its way back over the Atlantic to North America. The first country to thoroughly accept the potato was Ireland. By the mid 1800’s, they became so attached to the potato, for their day-to-day sustenance, that when a potato famine developed, it was devastating to the masses. The great “Irish Potato Famine,” lasting approximately from 1845 to 1852, claimed roughly one half of the Irish population.
Today, the potato is so common, plentiful and pervasive in the Western diet that it is taken for granted. We forget that it has only been with the Western world for a few hundred years. The number of potato varieties available today are phenomenal. Red, brown, yellow, small, medium, large, sweet, bland, etc.
What are some of the potato’s main benefits?
The potato is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. One medium potato provides a healthy dose of magnesium, iron, potassium, fiber, vitamin C and niacin. A medium size potato, about 1/3 pound (150 grams), contains:
Water: 133 g, Calories: 150, Protein: 4 g, Carbohydrates: 34 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugars: 2 g, Total Fat: 0.3 g, Saturated Fat: 0.06 g, Monounsaturated Fat: 0.006 g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 0.09 g, Cholesterol: 0 mg;
Micronutrients: Calcium: 21 mg, Iron: 1.5 mg, Magnesium: 47 mg, Phosphorus: 130 mg, Potassium: 969 mg, Sodium: 13 mg, Zinc: 0.7 mg, Vitamin C: 42 mg, Thiamin: 0.2 mg, Riboflavin: 0.07 mg, Niacin: 2.5 mg, Pantothenic Acid:0.6 mg, Vitamin B6: 0.37 mg, Vitamin B12: 0 mcg, Folate: 38 mcg, Vitamin A: 15 IU Vitamin E: 0.02 mg, Vitamin K: 6 mcg,
Phytonutrients: Beta Carotene: 9 mcg, Beta Cryptoxanthin: 0 mcg, Lycopene: 0 mcg
Lutein and Zeaxanthin: 45 mcg