Potatoes

Potatoes

Whether mashed, baked or roasted, people often consider potatoes as comfort food. It is an important food staple and the number one vegetable crop in the world. Potatoes are available year-round as they are harvested somewhere every month of the year.

The potato belongs to the Solanaceae or nightshade family whose other members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and tomatillos. They are the swollen portion of the underground stem which is called a tuber and is designed to provide food for the green leafy portion of the plant. If allowed to flower and fruit, the potato plant will bear an inedible fruit resembling a tomato.

The potato was introduced to Europe in 1536, and then by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world. Thousands of varieties persist in the Andes, where over 100 varieties might be found in a single valley, and a dozen or more might be maintained by a single agricultural household.

The most widely cultivated variety worldwide, Solanum tuberosum, is believed to be indigenous to Chiloé Archipelago, Chile, and to have been cultivated by the local indigenous people since before the arrival of the Spanish. Evidence for this includes historical records, local agriculturalists, and DNA analyses.

Today, over 99% of all cultivated potato varieties worldwide are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to South-Central Chile.

The potato is strongly associated with Idaho, Maine, Washington, North Dakota, Prince Edward Island, Ireland, Jersey and Russia because of its large role in the agricultural economy and history of these regions. But in recent decades, the greatest expansion of potato has been in Asia, where as of 2007 approximately 80% of the world potato crop is grown. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, China has become the world's largest potato producer, followed by India.

Storing and Cooking

Store potatoes in a cool, dry, dark place that's well ventilated. The ideal temperatures are 45 to 50 degrees F. At 45 to 50 degrees, potatoes will keep well for several weeks. At temperatures much over that, potatoes should not be stored for more than one week. Warmer temperatures encourage sprouting and shriveling. (Sprouting potatoes can still be used but there will be some waste. Remove sprouts and eyes completely. Peel before cooking.)

Avoid prolonged exposure to light which causes potatoes to turn green. This green area should be pared off before the potato is used. Don't refrigerate potatoes. Below 40 degrees, potatoes will develop a sweet taste, the result of an accumulation of sugars in the tubers. This increased sugar will cause the potato to darken when cooked.

The potato skin is a concentrated source of dietary fiber, so to get the most nutritional value from this vegetable, don't peel it and consume both the flesh and the skin. Just scrub the potato under cold running water right before cooking and then remove any deep eyes or bruises with a paring knife. If you must peel it, do so carefully with a vegetable peeler, only removing a thin layer of the skin and therefore retaining the nutrients that lie just below the skin.

Potatoes should be cleaned and cut right before cooking in order to avoid the discoloration that occurs with exposure to air. If you cannot cook them immediately after cutting, place them in a bowl of cold water to which you have added a little bit of lemon juice, as this will prevent their flesh from darkening and will also help to maintain their shape during cooking. As potatoes are also sensitive to certain metals that may cause them to discolor, avoid cooking them in iron or aluminum pots or using a carbon steel knife to cut them.

Quick Serving Ideas:
  • Purée roasted garlic, cooked potatoes and olive oil together to make delicious garlic mashed potatoes. Season to taste.
  • Potatoes are a featured ingredient in the classic dish, Salad Nicoise, that pairs new potatoes with chunks of tuna fish and steamed green beans dressed lightly with oil and vinegar.
  • Toss steamed, diced potato with olive oil and fresh herbs of your choice.

Potato Recipes:

Potato and Kale Soup

Sage and Onion Roast Potatoes

Did you know?

The Center for Disease Control estimates that every year 76 million Americans get sick, more than 300,000 are hospitalized, and 5,000 die from food borne illnesses

Quotes

"Agriculture not only gives riches to a nation, but the only riches she can call her own."
~Samuel Johnson

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