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23 Fascinating & Incredible Facts About Potatoes

23 Incredible Facts About Potatoes

The potato is known to most as a familiar, hearty, and humble comfort food. A somewhat uninspiring, yet omnipresent feature of millions of mealtimes around the world. But this modest root vegetable has a fascinating history, from ancient Andean civilisations to the International Space Station, the story of the potato is full of surprises! Here are 23 spud-tacular facts about potatoes…

Facts about Potatoes

Facts about potatoes
  1. The potato, Latin name solanum tuberosum, is an annual root vegetable plant belonging to the nightshade Solanaceae genus. They are known predominantly for their large, rounded, edible tubers, or potatoes, which grow underground as part of the root system. 
  2. There are currently around 5000 accepted species of potato, all with slightly varying appearances. The tubers can vary in colour from white to yellow to brown to purple. Above ground, the potato plant is identified by its fairly tall and sturdy stems, irregular green leaves, and delicate pale white, red, yellow, or purple flowers, depending on the variety.  
  3. According to the Guinness Book Of World Records, the heaviest potato ever grown tipped the scales at a whopping 4.98 kg. It was grown in Somerset, UK, in 2011. 
  4. The potato is native to the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes area of South America. 99% of potato species cultivated today are descended from early potatoes which originated in the Chilean Andes. 
  5. Potatoes thrive in cool, temperate, and slightly humid conditions. They are fairly hardy and adaptable, able to grow successfully in almost any soil type, and can survive at altitudes anywhere from sea level, up to 15,420 feet above sea level.  
  6. Potatoes can be reproduced by cloning a parent tuber. When you remove tubers from the ground, they are not dead, but dormant. The tubers will eventually sprout shoots, which, when planted, will grow into new plants which are exact genetic clones of the original tuber. Each potato can produce between 5 and 20 of these clones. 
  7. In addition to cloning from existing tubers, the potato can also reproduce from seed. These seeds are stored inside tomato-like berries which appear after flowering. Each berry can contain up to 400 seeds. Potatoes which are grown from these seeds will be genetically different from the parent plant, unlike the tuber clones. Potato fact
  8. As a member of the nightshade genus, potatoes contain Solanine, a glycoalkaloid poison that is toxic and sometimes fatal to humans if consumed. Solanine poisoning causes gastrointestinal and neurological symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, dizziness, hallucinations, and paralysis. Symptoms of solanine poisoning can occur as little as 10 minutes after ingestion. Glycoalkaloid levels in potatoes increase when the tuber has been exposed to sunlight. This often causes the potato to turn green because of increased photosynthesis, and is a good indication that the potato could be toxic and thus should not be eaten. This is why it is recommended that potatoes should be stored in cool, dark places. 
  9. Potatoes were first domesticated by ancient peoples living in the Andean regions of Peru around 8000-5,000 BCE. It wasn’t until the Inca civilisation, however, that the nutritional and medicinal value of potatoes was truly exploited. Potatoes weren’t introduced to Europe until the Spanish Conquistador ships brought them back in the 1500s. 
  10. Potatoes are a highly nutritional vegetable, providing a good source of vitamin C, vitamin B, fibre, protein, potassium, thiamin, and niacin. Eating potatoes can help to reduce cholesterol, improve digestion, and promote blood circulation. They are gluten-free and are a very filling food, providing high nutritional content which is particularly valuable when food is scarce.
  11. Potatoes contain strong antioxidant properties which have been shown to reduce the proliferation of cancerous cells in liver and colon cancers. The starch content in potatoes can also help to regulate blood sugar levels in diabetics. 
  12. As are the fourth most important food crop globally, just behind wheat, maize, and rice, potatoes are eaten by over a billion people worldwide, with Europeans eating the most potatoes per capita. In Germany, for instance, it is estimated that the average person eats more than 90 kilograms of potato per year! Around 300 million metric tons of potatoes are cultivated annually around the world and the global potato market was estimated to be worth around 25.7 billion U.S. dollars in 2019. Potato facts
  13. Potatoes are an incredibly productive crop, able to yield around four times the calorific value per hectare than grain crops, and produce more food per unit of water used than any other crop. Potatoes also mature for harvest in less than half of the time it takes for grain crops to mature. 
  14. Despite Europeans eating the most potatoes per capita now, they were initially treated with great suspicion when first introduced to the continent and were mainly cultivated only for animal feed. People were wary of this strange new vegetable because it was grown underground, and it was not mentioned in the Bible. It was even thought that potatoes caused leprosy, as their gnarled appearance bore a likeness to the deformed hands of a leper. 
  15. The failure of the potato crop caused one of the worst famines in human history. In Ireland during the 1840s and 1850s, national dependence on potatoes and several years of severely blighted crops led to the starvation and death of around 1 million people, and the mass exodus of around a further 2 million. The potato famine sparked a century-long population decline in Ireland, and in some towns, the population dropped by as much as 67%. 
  16. Potatoes are used in the distilling and fermentation process for alcoholic spirits, most commonly, vodka. Nowadays potatoes account for only around 1% of vodka produced, but were once a very common ingredient in distilleries, owing to the cheapness and availability of potatoes throughout Europe. Vodka which is made from potatoes is said to have a more distinctive flavour than vodka distilled from barley or wheat. Potatoes are also used to make a traditional Irish moonshine type spirit called Poitín, which dates back to the 1st Century AD and is typically between 40 and 90% ABV. Poitín was outlawed by the English in 1661 and was only legalised again in 1997.  
  17. The natural salt and water content of the potato produces electrolytes, which allow them to effectively conduct electricity, essentially acting as a natural battery acid! Electricity is generated and conducted by chemical reactions occurring amongst the acids within the potato. Interestingly, a boiled potato can produce ten times more power than a raw one! Potatoes facts
  18. Potatoes are the first vegetable to be successfully grown in space! Known by NASA as ‘Quantum Tubers’, it was discovered that potatoes grew with the same success in zero-gravity conditions as they do on Earth. 
  19. The Inca civilisation of South America domesticated thousands of varieties of potato, which they believed to have spiritual importance and healing qualities. In Incan mythology, Axomamma, the daughter of Pachamama (Mother Earth) was the goddess of potatoes. Most Inca villages would have an oddly shaped potato ‘icon’ which they worshipped to ensure a bountiful harvest. The Inca carried tubers to their temples and even buried their dead alongside potatoes. Raw potatoes were used to treat ailments such as toothache, frostbite, and broken bones. They even used potatoes as a way of timekeeping by gauging how long the roots took to boil. 
  20. The Moche civilisation of Peru, dating around 100-700 AD also revered the potato. Several examples of sacred potato-shaped pottery have been discovered, indicating that the potato held elite status in society. 
  21. In the 13th Century, the Quechua and Aymara peoples of Peru and Bolivia developed the first-ever freeze-dried potatoes to preserve food for long journeys or to guarantee sustenance through difficult harvests. They discovered that potatoes, which are 80% water, would freeze when left out overnight in the icy Andes climate. During the next day, the potatoes were allowed to thaw out in the sun and then stamped flat to eliminate any moisture. This freezing and thawing cycle was repeated over several days until they were fully dehydrated and could be safely stored for long periods without spoiling. The freeze-dried potatoes would then be soaked in water and cooked before eating. These primitive potato snacks, known as Chuño, were considered very valuable and were even traded as currency. Chuño is still eaten today in Andean regions. 
  22. Early European botanists correctly identified potatoes as belonging to the poisonous nightshade family of plants, which led to potatoes being associated with witchcraft, magick, and devil worship during the 1600s due to the hallucinogenic and paralysing properties of its solanine. 
  23. In Victorian Britain, it was thought that carrying a raw potato in your pocket would alleviate symptoms of rheumatism, but only if the potato had been stolen! More modern folk remedies tell that raw potatoes can reduce burns, bruising, and swelling when rubbed onto a wound. In paganism, potatoes are thought to absorb negative and harmful energies, due to their high water content, and are said to bring protection when sliced into quarters and placed around the perimeter of your property. 

Wrap Up

Potatoes fact
From its poisonous roots in the nightshade family to its anti-cancerous properties in modern medicine, the potato has been worshiped, revered, and even feared throughout human history. Responsible for devastating famines, ancient freeze-dried feasts, and zero-gravity experiments, the familiar and unassuming appearance of the potato belies its captivating, surprising, and sometimes turbulent history. Or should that be tuber-lent? 

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Emily Grice

Emily Grice

Em Grice is a content writer specialising in horticulture and botany who combines her respect for the natural world with her love for the written word. A regular contributor to a range of international publications and organisations, she is most at peace when pottering in her own little garden in the north of England

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