A small, starchy brown root vegetable, Solanum tuberosum. Closest edible relatives are the tomato, eggplant and chili. It is not related to either the sweet potato (lopomoea batatas, native to North America) or the yam (either of Amorphophallus paeoniifolius, native to India, Dioscorea opositae, native to China, or Oxalis tuberosa, native to South America).

I myself am proud to be a member of this wonderful race. All hail the mighty potato!

Varieties of potato

The history of the potato:

The potato evolved in South America, living in a glorious symbiotic relationship with the llama and other native wildlife. In return for fertilisation, the potato would give the llama its succulent leaves to eat. This golden age was shattered, however, with the arrival of the human race. Potatoes were routinely plucked from the ground in the prime of their lives by the cruel hand of humanity; by the Incan race and their ancestors.

Escape from this fate was promised to some by the Conquistadores of Spain. Contrary to popular belief, neither Sir Francis Drake nor Sir Walter Raleigh had anything to do will the emigration; it was probably an anonymous Spanish soldier who brought back the first potato. However, the potato was not widely consumed in Europe, remaining instead a curiosity rather than a food source.

But upon arrival in Ireland, the starch-thirsty natives wasted no time in taking advantage of the potatoes' precious carbohydrates. The potato was easier to grow than any grain, taking up less space and needing less care, and thereby could cope with the pressure of feeding the growing population of Ireland.

In England, potatoes were less needed. The citizens abstained from the cruel practice of potato massacre, until, that is, the Industrial Revolution. Soon the inner cities were crowded with the Lower class, all needing sustenance, and without enough bread to go round. The English finally turned to the Irish solution, and soon the potato was eaten there as well.

But back in Ireland, disaster was about to strike for both potato and human. The potato blight was released upon the land, killing millions of potatoes in one fell swoop, and starving the human population of its main food supply. The Great Famine hit: three famines within four years. Many humans fled, and many more died.

Those Irish that had fled to America brought with them a few samples of their cherished vegetable to feed them in the new world. The land suited the potato, especially the flat landscape and mild climate of Idaho and Washington. Thus the potato spread to a third continent, though still a slave to humanity. It would be many years before the Church of Potatoism was formed, and potatoes could start to rise against their human oppressors. The final era in potato history is just beginning... 8^)

Potato (Solanum tuberosum)

The potato, more properly known as the Irish (or white) potato (despite its non-Irish origins) or the Burbank potato (they are both different varieties), is perhaps one of the most nourishing of the world's vegetables. It belongs to the Nightshade (Solanaceae) family. The vegetable is a tuber and is actually the root of the plant. The potato is a cool-season vegetable -- however, it freezes when the temperature drops below 0 degrees Celcius and must be covered whenever there is the threat of frost. Twenty-two degrees seems to be around optimal. The potato is a relatively difficult plant to grow, requiring a certain amount of sunlight, water and fertilizer.

History of the Potato
(Or: Zzzzzzzz...)

The potato is native to the Andean mountains (present day Chile). In the mid 1700's, the potato moved to Ireland, where it became a staple food of the Irish people. As a matter of fact, this is the reason why the white potato is properly known as the Irish potato. Ireland had an ideal climate for growing this supremely reliable crop. The Irish diet depended solely on the potato, with as many as 10 being consumed regularly by the average Irishman. The entire Irish economy and way of life was dependent on the potato. And, as so often happens in history, Fate chose this situation to play one of its most cruel tricks. In the 1840's, the blight (Phytophthora infestans) struck, along with heavy rains that caused the potato tubers to rot. Fully one-eigth of the Irish population died, and 2 million Irishmen immigrated.

Meanwhile, in the US, a man named Luther Burbank had been attempting to improve upon the wildly popular 'Irish potato'. The result was the Burbank potato, a strain that had 2-3 times more yield than the Irish potato, and was bigger, too! Later, a mutation was found in Colorado which gave the potato a rugged skin -- and made it resistant to many disease-causing organisms. This new strain was named the Russet Burbank. The American state of Idaho is famous for this strain of potato. Although Idaho is the best known of the 'American potato states, Washington and Wisconsin are also important centres of potato-growing.

Fun Facts about the Potato
(Or: Everything you didn't know about the potato and still don't)

- George Washington (first president of the US) planted potatoes at Mount Vernon and Thomas Jefferson (another US president) served them at Monticello.
- Potato starch is used to produce paper, glue and lipstick. They're even used in baby diapers! And, most importantly, Vodka is made from Potatoes! (thanks to cbustapeck for pointing this out!) And lastly, El Puerco Loco told me that the alcohol used to power the V2 rocket was distilled from potatoes! Bes you didn't know that!
- The Russians are the world's number one producer of the potato, followed by the Chinese.
- Potato chips were invented in Saratoga, New York when a chef became frustrated with a customer's request for thin potato slices fried in oil. He decided to slice the potatoes super-thin, but to his surprise, the customer liked them!
- The souffle potato was invented when a hotel chef at a French railway station accidentally plunged a potato into oil a second time and the potato puffed up.
- The American soldiers in Belgium named a Belgian potato snack French fries. French fries (les frites) are wildly popular in Belgium (and the Netherlands) and are sold on street corners. They're way bigger than the American ones, too!
- potato is the current stable release of Debian GNU/Linux. - The literal translation of the words meaning 'potato' in the Romance languages (and also Esperanto) is 'apple of the earth'. (Cf. French 'pomme du terre')
- Thanks to the gazelle for this, and edited slightly for accuracy: Sometime between 1800 to 1810, the Ambassador of the supreme Indian government to Iran, Sir John Malcolm, introduced the potato. The Persians called this strange new fruit 'Malcolm's Plums' (atuyi Malkam) and also Sib-i Zir Zamien ('apple of the earth'. Seem familiar?)

And last, but not least...

The Obligatory Potato Science Project

This is a project that seems to be given to every student in primary school. Here it is, from Dr. Coughdrop's Laboratory:

Things You Will Need.
A Potato
Some Potting Soil
A Flower Pot or a Plastic Glass

Put the Potato in a dark cupboard or closet. Check on it once a day until you see the small, white bumps called "eyes".
Once your potato has "eyes", have an adult help you cut them off the potato.
Fill the flower pot half full of potting soil.
Place the piece of potato on the soil with the "eyes" facing up.
Cover the "eyes" with another inch of the potting soil. Add some water.
Keep the potting soil moist, but not too wet.
Watch closely for a few weeks.

What Happened?

What changes did you see? Do you know why it happened? A Potato is a tuber, and it's "eyes" are actually buds. When you planted the "eye", you really planted a potato bud that can grow into a whole new potato plant!

(Or: No, I wasn't born knowing all about potatoes)
- http://www.doctorcoughdrop.com/lab.html -- Dr Coughdrop's Loony Laboratory
- http://www.sunspiced.com/phistory.html -- History of the Potato
- I can't believe it's History!, Katy Keck Arnsteen & Donna Guthrie

A History of the Potato

The humble potato has had a major impact on the history of the world, from preventing scurvy in the Spanish Armada to contributing to the dominance of the Incas in South America to causing massive immigration to the United States.

Origins of the Potato

The Andes mountain range of South America is the birthplace of the white potato that we eat today. The modern species was cultivated over thousands of years by various South American tribes, most notably the Aymara Indians developed over two hundred varieties, and discovered how to effectively grow the potatoes at high elevations (over 10,000 feet) on the Titicaca Plateau.

Nazca and Inca culture placed the potato as a central piece of life, featuring the potato as a central part of their art and pottery. The later Incas even used the growth of the potato plant as their primary unit of time; their time units correlated to how long it took a potato to cook in various consistencies. Potatoes were also used in these cultures to predict the weather and for divining the answers to questions.

Europe is Introduced to the Potato

In 1537, during their periods of conquest of the Central and South American indigenous tribes, the Spanish Conquistadors came across the potato during their conquest of the Incas. Surprised to find such a prolific crop growing so high in elevation, the Spaniards took a large number of samples of the potato to their colonies and began to grow them as food for the masses, for it was considered low class to eat them. This was due primarily to the racist hatred toward the Incas.

By 1570, the potato arrived on the shores of Spain and began to be used for the purpose of feeding the ill and destitute by the king. Potatoes began to be the primary food served in hospitals.

The potato slowly spread throughout Europe, mostly as a botanical curiosity rather than as a food crop. The resistance to the crop was mostly due to ingrained eating habits, the reputation of the crop as food for the poor and destitute, and its apparent botanical relationship to known poisonous plants.

It was in Germany in the 1620s when the potato began to be widely used as a food crop. Frederick the Great, ruler of Prussia at the time, ordered his people to plant and eat potatoes as a famine deterrent, which was a major issue at the time. At first, the people rejected this notion since potatoes were viewed as being poisonous, but Frederick decreed that all people resisting this law would have their noses cut off. At several periods throughout the 1600s, the tuber was the primary saving grace to many settlements throughout central Europe, mostly due to the potato's hardiness even in times of famine and drought.

Gradually, the potato was spread widely throughout Europe. Just prior to the French revolution in the 1780s, a French agriculturalist and chemist by the name of Antoine Augustin Parmentier convinced Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to try the potato. When the ruling pair liked it, he managed to secure a great deal of funding from the court to promote the potato throughout France. Other nations began to slowly adopt the potato as well.

The Famine

By the 1800s, the potato was an essential part of most European diets, especially in Ireland, where Irish peasants ate an average of ten potatoes a day, providing 80% of their daily calories. Such a massive dependence on a single crop was bound to end in disaster, but the Irish justified it because no other crop had ever been shown to be as dependable.

In the late 1840s, disaster struck. Three successive years (1847 to 1849) of late blight (the microscopic fungus Phytophthora infestans) and heavy rains rotted the potato crops in the ground. Without the potatoes that they had become totally dependent on, both the peasants and animals went hungry. At first, the people survived by eating the products of animals and the animals themselves, but eventually the animals were nearly extinct as well. Then the true suffering began. More than one million of Ireland's 8 million inhabitants died of starvation in 1848 to 1850; almost 2 million emigrated, mostly to the United States. To this day, Ireland has never reached the same population peak.

The problem was caused by a lack of genetic diversity in the potato crop; the Irish did not bother to incorporate new strains into their potato crops for hundreds of years, resulting in only a few strains grown prolifically in the country. When the blight struck, there were no available potato strains that were resistant to the blight, and with their dependence on potatoes, it was an unmitigated disaster.

The Redemption of the Potato

At around the same time, the United States began to widely use the potato in their diet as well. Since potatoes could grow most anywhere, virtually every state began to produce significant amounts of potatoes in the 1830s and 1840s. When word of the famine came to America, though, people began to worry greatly about the potential problems of reliance on the potato.

This is when several American scientists stepped in to ensure the potato a long life in America. Luther Burbank, the legendary American horticulturalist, spent the 1850s and 1860s breeding a better potato. Growing twenty-three seedlings from an Early Rose parent (Early Rose being a very common Irish variety), he discovered that one seedling produced two to three times more tubers of better size than any other potato variety he had yet grown. After testing this new variety, Burbank marketed the seedling he called the Burbank to the West Coast states in the late 1800's.

Given this reinvigoration of the potato crop, scientists such as George Washington Carver began to carefully investigate the potato and discovered that countless commercial products could be made from the humble tuber. This led to a huge market for potatoes for non-foodstuff usage.

The new Burbank Russet variety was discovered to be especially adaptable to the climates of Idaho and Washington, so these states quickly became top potato-producing areas. However, one more discovery was needed to make potato production really take off. Production began to decline in the region because the cast-off potatoes (ones not good enough to sell) were being used for seeding future crops. Joe Marshall, an Idaho potato farmer, discovered in 1923 that if one used the best potatoes rather than the throwaways as seed potatoes, then the next crop would be extremely productive. When this technique was widely adopted by the end of the decade, potato production took off and has never looked back.

Today, the potato is a staple of most diets in the world. The hardiness of the plant and the strong production contribute to this adoption, but it also provides a great deal of starch and nutrition and provides the foundation for many meals.

We have another crisis in the Sunshine State and this time it is not a big freeze affecting the citrus crop. Florida's potato farmers are facing ruin.

boiled and baked, roasted and fried, steamed, riced, pureed, whipped, and mashed

Wholesale prices have fallen by 5% and more. There has been a decrease of over 20% in acreage devoted to potato culture. The bathing beauties on the beaches are opting for low-carb diets and eschewing potatoes. French fry consumption has dropped by 17%.

hash browns and country fried, chips, crisps, shoestring and julienne, french fries and frites

Matt Seay is a Flagler County potato farmer. He sells the crop from his 200-acre farm to potato chip manufacturers. He is counting on the low-carb diet fad to run its course.

Frito-Lay and Jay's, Taquito, Cajun Chips and Pringles, Dakota Style and Golden Flake, Dirty's All Natural Chips, Humpty Dumpty Chips, and "Ivory Crisp" Potato for Tasty Chips

"Every time I hear 'Atkins,' it almost makes the hairs stand up on the back of my neck," he said. "And a lot of those fast-food restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon. That's not helping."

Russets and bakers, round floury and waxy yellow, round redskins and long whites

Florida potato farmers are not alone. From Idaho and Washington state, to Maine and Michigan, spud growers have called upon powerful forces to help in the good fight. And it is a fight. The National Potato Board has kicked off an aggressive $4.4 million campaign for 2004. Joining with Weight Watchers, the two nutrution giants have decided to tell "The Truth About Carbs."

Irish Potato Bread, Potato Donuts, Cod and Potato Salad, Broccoli Cheese Potato Soup, Potato Sauce, Potato cake

The "white" foods outlawed by the infamous Atkins Diet include rice, pasta and bread as well as potatoes. It is not known yet if rice growers, pasta makers and bakeries will band together to safeguard their livelihood. On the potato front, the effort has spread beyond the boundries of the United States. Canadians are also concerned.

potatoes and gravy, meat and potatoes, a side order of fries, stuffed potato, potato cheese patties

Potato growers on Prince Edward Island have a vast oversupply. Between 80% and 70% of last season's crop is in storage. Normally only 20% is left at this time of year. It is envisioned to dump the surplus for fertilizer. There are concerns that mass dumping of potatoes could cause environmental damage.

potato salad, potato soup, potato dumplings, potato bread, potato pancake, potato balls
In Britain the English have begun to be somewhat concerned. The market in potato futures has fallen heavily. However, there is a bright side to the picture. February 16th through the 22nd is British National Chip Week. Linking to traditional Valentine themes of the preceding week, the campaign features a pair of bright red lips as a logo and the catchy slogan,

Time to get your lips around some chips.


When the potato was first introduced in Sweden in the 19th century (by Jonas Ahlströmer among others), many people tried to eat the fruits (the little green "tomatoes"). Of course, since the fruits are poisonous (containing atropine), it took a while for the potato to become established in the Swedish household. Once people figured out that the root lumps are the edible part, it soon became the country's most important staple food. Not so strange, considering it tastes better and yields more food/acre than turnips.

Of course, nobody in Sweden knows what an acre is. God bless the metric system.

A big shot; anyone who has money, influence, or the apperance of having either.

- american underworld dictionary - 1950

Po*ta"to (?), n.; pl. Potatoes (#). [Sp. patata potato, batata sweet potato, from the native American name (probably batata) in Hayti.] Bot. (a)

A plant (Solanum tuberosum) of the Nightshade family, and its esculent farinaceous tuber, of which there are numerous varieties used for food. It is native of South America, but a form of the species is found native as far north as New Mexico.


The sweet potato (see below).

Potato beetle, Potato bug. Zool. (a) A beetle (Doryphora decemlineata) which feeds, both in the larval and adult stages, upon the leaves of the potato, often doing great damage. Called also Colorado potato beetle, and Doryphora. See Colorado beetle. (b) The Lema trilineata, a smaller and more slender striped beetle which feeds upon the potato plant, bur does less injury than the preceding species. -- Potato fly Zool., any one of several species of blister beetles infesting the potato vine. The black species (Lytta atrata), the striped (L. vittata), and the gray (L. cinerea, ∨ Fabricii) are the most common. See Blister beetle, under Blister. -- Potato rot, a disease of the tubers of the potato, supposed to be caused by a kind of mold (Peronospora infestans), which is first seen upon the leaves and stems. -- Potato weevil Zool., an American weevil (Baridius trinotatus) whose larva lives in and kills the stalks of potato vines, often causing serious damage to the crop. -- Potato whisky, a strong, fiery liquor, having a hot, smoky taste, and rich in amyl alcohol (fusel oil); it is made from potatoes or potato starch. -- Potato worm Zool., the large green larva of a sphinx, or hawk moth (Macrosila quinquemaculata); -- called also tomato worm. See Illust. under Tomato. -- Seaside potato Bot., Ipomea Pes-Caprae, a kind of morning-glory with rounded and emarginate or bilobed leaves. [West Indies] -- Sweet potato Bot., a climbing plant (Ipomea Balatas) allied to the morning-glory. Its farinaceous tubers have a sweetish taste, and are used, when cooked, for food. It is probably a native of Brazil, but is cultivated extensively in the warmer parts of every continent, and even as far north as New Jersey. The name potato was applied to this plant before it was to the Solanum tuberosum, and this is the "potato" of the Southern United States. -- Wild potato. Bot. (a) A vine (Ipomea pandurata) having a pale purplish flower and an enormous root. It is common in sandy places in the United States. (b) A similar tropical American plant (I. fastigiata) which it is thought may have been the original stock of the sweet potato.


© Webster 1913.

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