Potatoes

13 Interesting Facts About Potatoes

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The humble potato has an intriguing history and has become one of the most important food sources on Earth. Here are 13 fascinating potato facts that may surprise you.

A Brief History

Potatoes originated in Peru. Archaeological evidence shows that potatoes were first cultivated by the Incas around 8,000 BC to 5,000 B.C. The Incas prized the potato for its ability to grow in poor soil and at high elevations.

Potatoes were brought to Europe in the 16th century. Spanish conquistadors invading Peru discovered the potato and brought it back to Europe around 1570. At first, Europeans were wary of the strange new vegetable, believing that it caused diseases like leprosy. However, by the 1800s, the potato had become a staple crop across Europe as its excellent nutritional value and ease of growth was recognized.

Nutrition

  • Potatoes are fat-free, sodium-free, and high in vitamin C and potassium. One medium baked potato with skin provides 110 calories, 0 grams fat, 0 grams sodium, 24 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 27% Daily Value of vitamin C, and 620 milligrams potassium.
  • The potato skin contains at least 50% of the total dietary fiber, vitamin C, iron, potassium, zinc and magnesium. So keep the skin on for maximum nutritional benefit!
  • Potatoes contain antioxidants like carotenoids, flavonoids, and caffeic acid. These antioxidants can help neutralize free radicals which cause cell damage in the body and contribute to aging and disease.
potato
potato

Varieties

There are over 5,000 different varieties of potatoes grown around the world! Here are some of the most popular:

  • Russet: Large, brown, thick-skinned potatoes that are perfect for baking into fluffy baked potatoes. Also used for fries.
  • Yukon Gold: Thin yellowish skin and yellow flesh. Moist, waxy texture that is good for roasting, mashing, or in potato salad.
  • Red: Small round potatoes with reddish pink skin and white flesh. Firm, waxy texture good for roasting or boiling.
  • Fingerling: Small, narrow “finger-shaped” potatoes available in many skin/flesh colors. Firm texture good for roasting.

Uses

  • French fries and chips – One of the most popular ways to eat potatoes, invented in Belgium, not France!
  • Mashed potatoes – Cooked and mashed potatoes make the perfect comfort food side dish.
  • Baked potatoes – Baked whole in their skins until fluffy on the inside. Top with butter, cheese, bacon and more!
  • Home fries – Diced, pan-fried potatoes are delicious for breakfasts and sides.
  • Potato pancakes – Shredded potato, onion, and egg fried into tasty potato pancakes or latkes.
  • Gnocchi – These small soft dough dumplings made from potatoes make a delightful Italian pasta.
  • Vodka – Most vodka is distilled from fermented potatoes. Potato vodka originated in Poland and Russia.
Concept of tasty food with boiled young potatoes
Concept of tasty food with boiled young potatoes

Growing Potatoes

  • Potatoes are grown by planting “seed potatoes” which grow into potato plants producing more potatoes underground.
  • Each seed potato should yield around 6-12 potatoes. The average yield worldwide is around 9 million tons per hectare.
  • Potatoes thrive in cool climates with steady moisture, and lots of space for their root systems to spread out. They take around 90-120 days to reach maturity.
  • Potatoes intended for storage should be dug up only when vines have died back and skins are firm. Store cured potatoes in a cool dark place at around 40-50°F.

Fun Facts

  • Potatoes can reflect wifi signal. Using an aluminum foil covered potato as a wifi signal booster actually works! The starch and water in the potato absorb and amplify the signal.
  • Potato plants produce tomatoes-like fruits when allowed to flower, that resemble small green tomatoes and contain true potato seeds. These seeds can be saved and replanted.
  • Potatoes shouldn’t be refrigerated below 50°F as cold temperatures convert their starch content to sugar giving them an unpleasant sweet taste.
  • Mr. Potato Head was the first toy to be advertised on TV and has been a toy since 1952.
  • Potatoes were taken to space by NASA to grow food and test crop production in space.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are potatoes healthy?

Yes, potatoes are a nutritious vegetable as they contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and more. They are fat-free and sodium-free. Choose potatoes with skins for maximum nutrition.

What’s the difference between white and sweet potatoes?

White potatoes and sweet potatoes are two distinct vegetables. White potatoes have thin light brown or red skin with white flesh. Sweet potatoes have orange/reddish skin and orange flesh. They have a sweeter flavor and are lower on the glycemic index.

Are green potatoes safe to eat?

No, avoid eating potatoes that have turned partly green under the skin. This indicates solanine buildup, which is toxic. Cut away any green portions before cooking.

How do you store potatoes properly?

Cure fresh potatoes for 1-2 weeks in a dark, dry spot around 45-60°F before storage. Then store them loose in a cool, dark place around 40-50°F for 2-3 months. Avoid refrigerating below 50°F.

Can dogs eat potatoes?

Yes, plain boiled or baked potatoes without seasonings are safe for dogs to eat in moderation. However, dogs should not eat raw potatoes, green or spoiled potatoes, or potato skins. Potatoes should never make up more than 10% of a dog’s diet.

What’s the largest potato ever grown?

The largest potato ever grown weighed over 18 pounds! It was grown by Peter Glazebrook from the UK in 2011, setting a Guinness World Record.

How many potatoes does the average American eat per year? 

Americans eat an average of 124 pounds of white potatoes per person per year. Of this, around 36 pounds are fresh and the rest are processed potato products like fries, chips, etc.


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