The everyday life saver, Potato
It doesn’t matter where you or where you are from, your kitchen will still have its stock of potatoes, piled away in a corner. There, it shall wait patiently, for its turn to serve you as your main dish, side dish, inter-meal snack, starter or emergency food to crash upon when nothing else is handy. Think of it…how much and how often we use it without any second thoughts. You may love it or hate it, but you certainly can’t wipe it off the face of your kitchen. After centuries of such devotional servitude to mankind, its time that our life saving friend, the potato, got its share of limelight…at least a while. So, today I blog about the potato, our eternal friend and life saver.
Scientifically, it is the fruit of the perennial plant Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family, the plant oddly also know as nightshades. With selective breeding over the years, more than a 1000 different kinds of potatoes are now known.
Though the vegetable is assumed to have originated in Peru, it was the Spaniards who first introduced them to Europe, from where it seems to have travelled to different ports all around the world. Since it was a Spanish discovery, the vegetable name also comes from the word patata, its Spanish equivalent. After the initiation hesitation in accepting it, the potato soon became the staple diet in Europe. However, lack in genetic made the crop vulnerable to diseases, causing the fungus infested potato blight. The disease spread rapidly through the poorer communities of western Ireland, leading to crop failures, thus creating the Great Irish Famine. Recovering from those times and coming to present, it has been estimated that the annual diet of an average global citizen in the first decade of the 21st century included about 33 kg (73 lb) of potato.
Like in producing everything else these days, no prizes for guessing that China is the world’s largest potato-producing country. Just like in terms of population, India follows closely behind at the third rank, Russia being the second. The economic crisis of 2008 further highlighted the role of this tuber in our daily lives. With it being cheap, plentiful and very adaptable, it soon made an even more special place in daily routines. As a result, the United Nations officially declared 2008 as the International Year of the Potato to raise its profile in developing nations, calling the crop a “hidden treasure”.
Now, despite every one blaming the fat on potato starch, the vegetable, surprisingly, does provide other nutrition as well. While most of it is carbohydrates and water, it is a very good source of dietary fibre and also contains vitamins B complex and vitamin C, calcium in considerable amounts. Additionally, it contains lower amounts of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and sodium.
Coming to its uses, of course, mostly it is used as a quick inexpensive and tasty way to shut up our growling tummies. Additionally, they are used brew alcoholic beverages such as vodka, potcheen, or akvavit and as food for domestic animals. Potato starch is used plentiful in the food industry and in manufacturing paper and boards. Talking about futuristic purposes, this gluttony veggie is explored for making bio-batteries, bio-plastic and biodegradable packaging material.
They say that life inspires art. So how did this life saving being go unnoticed, you might think. But it didn’t. The Moche culture from Northern Peru, in pre-Columbian times, made ceramics from earth, water, and fire. This pottery was considered sacred, made in a variety of shapes and themes to represent important themes. During the late 19th century, numerous images of potato harvesting appeared in European art, including the works of Willem Witsen and Anton Mauve. Van Gogh’s 1885 painting “The Potato Eaters” portrays a family eating potatoes.
Invented in 1949 and marketed and sold commercially by Hasbro in 1952, Mr. Potato Head is an American toy that consists of a plastic potato and attachable plastic parts such as ears and eyes to make a face. It was the first toy ever advertised on television.
So, here we are, done with our potato research. The next time you hold one in your hand, try give it a little more respect than ‘just a potato’.