We all know that potatoes are indigenous to the Andes Region of South America - more specifically Peru and date back to 7000-8000 BC. But did you know that it was not until the late 1500's that the rest of the world would be introduced to this starchy tuber? Want to know some WHY's?
To tell you some why's, I have to give you some back story. Grab another cup of coffee before turning the page.
Hear Ye Hear Ye - Bring out your Grains! Ancient civilizations - going all the way back to Mesopotamia (5000 BC), relied on the cultivation of cereal grains - which were widely successful due to the development of irrigation. The benefit of grain in ancient history times (in a nutshell) is multi-faceted.
1) Grain can be dried and stored, provide lasting nutrition over a longer period of time.
2) More food = more people have happy tummies - happy tummies provide stronger people to work.
3) Civilizations that had more food, in turn, had more people, which develops a more complex society.
4) (People have been a slave to the gov't forever) With people being able to dry and store their grain, this allowed the tax man to come by and tell you that you either had to pay the heirarchy taxes or give some of your bounty away.
So, things just kind-of go along this way for a while and some more while - until all of sudden in the late 1400's, this crazy Italian comes along with this hair-brained idea that the world wasn't flat. He takes his idea to the Monarchy of Spain and we all know what happens next. ... An armada of 3. I'll leave out the whole conquistador part of the story - but the take away is that a conspiracy theory is born... how did the potato show up in Europe? Sir Walter Raleigh? Sir Francis Drake? or was it the conquistadors who brought them back after all of the pillaging in Central America in the mid 1500's? I'll let you decide. But anyway - am I going to wrap this up anytime soon???
Do you remember how I was talking about the grain taxation above? The potato - due to its high water content (around 80%), breaks down quickly, therefore not making it a good crop for storing. Potatoes way way back were usually pulled from the ground and eaten right away. This isn't good for the tax man.
Well - the Inca's figured out a way to freeze-dry the potato at high altitudes - this technology allowed them to use the potato as a grain - non perishable, portable, taxable. Tax Man likes this. Also - the nutritional value (depending on climate and conditions) has the same if not more nutritional benefits than grain, and the potato grows in harsher climates and conditions - allowing it to feed more people in areas where grain production lacks. All of these benefits from the potato led to the rise and spread of the tuber throughout Europe.. and really took hold in poor Ireland, which struggled with its food production. The humble potato really stimulated a population boom because it vastly improved the general health of the public. It also helped the economy of Ireland, because it freed up a lot of grain for export. Until the potato famine - and I think I just talked myself into a corner.
But don't get out the masher just yet!! The positive news is that the potato is the 4th largest produced crop worldwide after: Wheat, Corn, and Rice. Today, potatoes are grown in all 50 states, and in 125 countries worldwide. Oh, and by the way, yes, potatoes are vegetables. Starchy, Delicious, Vegetables.