The potato is the fourth most consumed food crop in the world, following rice, wheat and corn. It’s a starchy, tuberous crop belonging to the Solanaceae family, otherwise known as the nightshades.
Potatoes can be cooked in many ways, to include boiling, baking, frying, and sautéing. In my opinion, the best method is baking, because it breaks up starch granules. Frying adds a lot of calories and really should be used sparingly. Potatoes can be made into many varieties of soup, dumplings, gnocchi, pancakes, potato salad, potato chips and even desserts. In their long history, they have risen from lowly beginning as an inexpensive staple of the poor to a healthy gourmet food.
There are approximately 5,000 potato varieties in the world. Potatoes are often classified by the area in which they are produced. For example, the Idaho potato, commonly used for baking, comes from Idaho, U.S.A. Potatoes are also classified by their varietal names, such as the Russet Burkbank, and by their color and size, such as the small, red, white rose, gold rose and Yukon Gold varieties. Some varieties are best for boiling, some for frying, and others for mashing.
It has been suggested that the potato’s single origin is Peru, from the species Solanum brevicaule. Though the original potato may hail from Peru, 99 percent of all cultivated potatoes are rooted in subspecies indigenous to Chile, according to historical records. Potatoes seem to have appeared in Peru around B.C. 3,000 as a food source for the Inca Empire. However, other evidence indicates it could have been Chile, not Peru, that put forth the first potatoes. Whichever South American country the potato got its start in, European sailors eventually brought potatoes back to Spain after conquering the continent. Francis Drake (an English sea captain, pirate, and politician of the Elizabethan era, 1540-1596) introduced potatoes to England in 1580. A painting by the botanist Carolus Clusius suggests that potatoes were used in northern Italy for both animal and human consumption.
Potatoes did not become fashionable in France until the 1800s. Times have changed, however; today, potatoes are a big part of European cuisine. Antoine Parmentier, a French doctor, studied the potato and demonstrated its nutritional value. The Russians began using the potato around 1800, but it did not become a significant ingredient there until the grain failure of 1839. It was realized then that potatoes were less expensive and just as nutritious as grain. After that, the new fashionable food trend throughout Europe in the 19th century was the potato. Potatoes supported economic development in England and provided an inexpensive source of food.
As implied earlier, potatoes are a big deal in Idaho, and by the 1900s, production was in the millions of bushels. Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Maine also produce potatoes. Idaho potatoes are the most well known in the U.S.
Nutritionally speaking, a 100-gram serving of potato has only 77 calories with 19 grams carbohydrate, 2.2 grams dietary fiber, and 2 grams protein. It also has 20 mg of vitamin C, which is 30 percent of the average adult daily requirement. Potatoes are a good source of thiamine, Niacin, riboflavin and folate, and they’re rich in potassium and phosphorus. They are easy to digest and are a great easy-to-stomach food for children and the elderly.
Still convinced that rice is always better? Try the following recipe for Korean potato soup -- and if you must have a bowl of rice on the side, I won’t stop you. Enjoy!
Korean potato soup (Gamjaguk)
4 cups chicken broth
4 small white potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup chopped mushrooms
1 cup chopped white onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon Korean red hot pepper flakes
Place broth, potatoes and carrots in a large pot. Bring to a boil on high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes or until tender. Add mushrooms, onions, salt, black pepper and red hot pepper. Stir and cook for about 2 minutes. Serves 4.
By Samia Mounts Samiamounts@yahoo.com
Samia Mounts is a long-time nutritionist and gourmet aficionado. She is the Assistant Principal at Seoul American Elementary School.