Sunday, January 13, 2008

2008: The Year Of The Potato

Is there a simpler yet more satisfying food than the humble potato?

Mashed, baked, diced, fried; in a stew, in a soup, as a side dish, or a main dish, the potato never disappoints.

But, did you know potatoes have been domesticated for the past 8000 years in the central Andes of present-day Peru?

From its Andean origins, the potato has become an international superstar, so much that it is difficult to think of a global cuisine that doesn't use potatoes in some way or another.

In order to celebrate the importance of this Andean tuber, the United Nations has declared 2008 the Year of the Potato.

I say, all hail the potato! What about you?

In Ayamara, one of the most ancient central Andean languages, a potato is called a ch'uqi, but the word papa, which is now used in the entire Spanish-speaking Western Hemisphere, comes from Quechua, the language of the Incas.

Worldwide, there are many way to say potatoes...

البطاطس, izambane, letapola, mbatata, kiazi, ibirayi, dankalin turawa, aartappel, igwili, 马铃薯, patates, আলু, Картоп, سيب‌ زميني, 감자, potato, آلو, आलू, картофель, patata, картопля, kartoffel, ziemniak, aardappel, potato, pomme de terre, бульба, práta, papa, batata, potato

Solanum tuberosum (the potato's Latin name) is a member of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family.

Until the Spanish reached the west coast of South America in the early 1500s, potatoes were unknown outside the Andean world. Now, from Irish stew, to Indian curries, to Moroccan tajines, potatoes are a Peruvian food gone global.

The first mention of the potato occurs in 1537 in A History of the New Kingdom of Granada by Juan de Castellanos. He writes: "They are round in shape, and produced by a small plant with branches, leaves, and flowers that are a curious purple colour, where amidst the roots of this plant (which is about three hands tall) they appear egg-like, some round, some elongated. They can be white or purple, or yellow; mealy, tasty roots, a gift from the Indians and among the Spanish, a 'treat'..."

Photo: Wiki

In 1590, Father Acosta writes of the native Peruvians, "...they overcome their lack of bread with some roots they grow, which they call papas, and grow underground...".

Photo: mkebbe

Photo: Wiki

The potato has been consumed in the Andes for about 8,000 years. Taken by the Spanish to Europe in the 16th century, it quickly spread across the globe: today potatoes are grown on an estimated 195,000 sq km, or 75,000 square miles, of farmland, from China's Yunnan plateau and the subtropical lowlands of India, to Java's equatorial highlands and the steppes of Ukraine. In terms of sheer quantity harvested, the humble potato tuber is the world's No. 4 food crop, with production in 2006 of almost 315 million tonnes (about 347 million US tons). More than half of that total was harvested in developing countries.

Photo: Eric in SF
The potato should be a major component in strategies aimed at providing nutritious food for the poor and hungry. It is ideally suited to places where land is limited and labour is abundant, conditions that characterize much of the developing world. The potato produces more nutritious food more quickly, on less land, and in harsher climates than any other major crop - up to 85 percent of the plant is edible human food, compared to around 50% in cereals.

Photo: Eric in SF
Potatoes are rich in carbohydrates, making them a good source of energy. They have the highest protein content (around 2.1 percent on a fresh weight basis) in the family of root and tuber crops, and protein of a fairly high quality, with an amino-acid pattern that is well matched to human requirements. They are also very rich in vitamin C - a single medium-sized potato contains about half the recommended daily intake - and contain a fifth of the recommended daily value of potassium.


Click here for the Peru Food main page.

TAGS: Peru, Peruvian, food, cooking, cuisine, cocina, comida, gastronomía, peruana


One Food Guy said...

Hooray for the potato! It feeds us in so many ways, and gives us drink...VODKA!!

::Alejandro:: said...

Ah yes! Vodka, sí sí sí...