by Anastassia Skarlinski
Potatoes have been cultivated for a long time. Evidence of potato consumption has been traced back to the Inca people of Peru as far back as 8000 BC. Today there are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes grown in Peru. It took a while for potatoes to take off as a food source in Europe. When originally introduced in the 1500s, potatoes were only grown as an ornamental plant. Eventually, potatoes took root as an important food staple. In the 18th century in Prussia, King Fredrick the Great saw that potatoes could help feed his people; however, the people were largely uninterested in the crop. To combat this disinterest, Frederick planted a guarded royal field of potatoes. The guards were paid to not guard well, pretending to sleep or be away if people tried to steal the potatoes. The people decided that if this crop was so special as to be guarded, it must be good. The king’s plan worked, and potatoes were soon embraced as a staple crop in Prussia.
Today potatoes are pretty popular. They are grown in 125 different countries and all 50 states in the United States. They were also the first vegetable grown in space! In 1995 NASA and the University of Wisconsin at Madison grew potatoes in space to provide a food source for astronauts during future space voyages or colonies. So, why would they want a potato in space?
Potatoes have several nutritional benefits. They are a great source of Vitamin C, B6, potassium, manganese, phosphorus, niacin, folate, and magnesium. Magnesium is an essential mineral. It helps your body regulate the calcium in your bones and helps with muscle and nerve function. Whenever possible, you should eat your potatoes with the skin. A lot of the vitamins, fiber, and other nutrients live in or near the skin. Potatoes are also full of resistant starch. This starch isn’t well absorbed by your body and therefore serves as an important food for the good bacteria in your gut.
What can you make with a potato? Well, as Sam points out in the Lord of the Rings movie, “boil ‘em, mash ‘em, stick ‘em in a stew.” You can use potatoes to add volume to a soup or stew. You can use them to make a potato salad, they tend to have more resistant starch when chilled. You can bake them to serve along with a dish or as the main dish. Popular baked potato toppers include; chili, broccoli with cheese, or chicken with pesto. I have even seen a recipe for potato granola, although I haven’t tried it. I make these Greek-inspired lemony potatoes quite often for my family. They make a great side with fish or roast chicken. I know the mustard is a weird ingredient, but it works to help make the dish bright.