The Potato ~November’s Veggie of the Month!

The Potato.

We eat them boiled, we eat them mashed, we eat them scalloped and baked and hashed. Apologies to Dr. Seuss, but we eat a lot of potatoes. The average Americans consumes well over 100 pounds of potatoes each year, mostly in processed forms like French fries and potato chips. Worldwide, potato is the number four food crop, surpassed only by wheat, rice, and corn.

The potato is vegetatively propagated. That means each new plant comes from a piece of an older plant. ‘Seed’ potatoes are saved from the previous growing season, then planted the following year. New plants sprout from the ‘eyes’ of the potato. These plants are identical clones of their parents.

The potato we eat is the part of the plant called a tuber, which, though it is underground, is not part of the actual root system but rather, a fleshy swelling on an underground stem, called a stolon.

Several thousand years ago, the Inca people of South America were the first to cultivate potatoes. Europeans discovered the potato much later when the Spanish conquered what is now Peru. By the end of the sixteenth century families of Basque sailors began to cultivate potatoes along the coast of northern Spain. Half a century later, Sir Walter Raleigh introduced potatoes to Ireland on land given to him by Queen Elizabeth the first. Two hundred and fifty years after that, the potato had become the main food in Ireland. Then, in 1845 and1846 the fungus that causes late blight destroyed the potato crop and caused the Irish Potato Famine. A million people died of starvation, and a million more left the country.

In the U.S., about half of all our potatoes are grown in just two states: Idaho and Washington, although there is some production in just about every state. Potatoes are easy to grow on the garden and fun to dig when they are ready to harvest.

The nutritional value of a potato is quite high. A medium size potato weighing about 6 ounces, with the skin, provides about a quarter of the daily value for vitamin C and potassium, and has 160 calories and almost no fat. It also has 4 grams of fiber. Other than fiber, most of nutrients are not in the skin, but in the potato itself.

Vern Grubinger University of Vermont Extension Oct 2011

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