Written by Branimir Dolibašić, B. Sc. human nutrition
Although the potato is an indispensable ingredient of American and European cuisines it was brought to Europe in the 16. century by the Spanish Conquistadors from South America.
The South American natives called it “patata”, and was known for centuries before the Spanish conquistadors. The Incas have grown potatoes in 750 BC in a large number of species and varieties. The original name patata was retained in most European languages. In the late 16th century potatoes started the European invasion, they rapidly arrived to Italy, Austria, Germany, France, and the British Empire.
But it was not an easy way from the soil to the dinner plates! Europeans were suspicious of plants that were not mentioned in the Bible, especially the ones that were not planted from seeds – and potato is propagated by planting tubers or pieces of tubers into the soil. So, it’s rise was slow, but it has taken an increasing importance in the diet and food production. It was so important for the Irish immigrants in the early 18th century that they transported it back to North America.
Potato is as modest and cheap food, even the Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh immortalized the tuber in 1885 on the famous painting “The potato eaters”. The nutritional composition is quite rich, and can be incorporated in everyone’s diet. Despite the belief that potatoes make you fat, it just depends on the way they are prepared. One medium potato (about 170 grams) contains 110 kcal. The same amount of rice or pasta contains almost 4 times more calories. Raw potato does not contain fat nor cholesterol, it is rich in starch and vitamins, especially the thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, iron and vitamin C.
Storage and Preservation
If properly stored, the shelf life of potatoes extends up to a year. In the Mediterranean countries the fresh potatoes hit the market in early spring, while the later varieties can be kept without problems in warehouses during the winter. Except in dried form, other forms of conservation are not particularly widespread and in fact rarely ever used, because the raw potato is very accessible.