The Humble Potato?
Potatoes are a staple of the American diet that has been around for a long time, but did you know that they are in the same family as the deadly Nightshade plant? In fact, potatoes contain a small amount of the toxin solanine, but as long as you don’t go out gathering wild potatoes, you have no need to worry. Commercially grown potato varieties are tested to ensure that the toxin levels are below harmful levels.
The potato is a tuberous starchy crop from the Solanum terbosum plant in the Solanaceae family. Other members of the family include petunias, tobacco, tomatoes, eggplant, and paprika. Potatoes are one of the most cultivated crops in the world.
The History of Potatoes
Potatoes are believed to have originated from Peru. There is evidence to suggest that people were growing potatoes in Peru since around 3000 BC, and potatoes were a major source of food for the people of the Inca Empire. They were introduced into Europe by Spanish sailors who traveled to South America and took some of the tubers along to serve as their food on the journey home. It is believed that the potatoes left over at the end of the voyage were planted. After that, the potato became a major part of the food stock on ships. From Spain, the potato spread to all of Europe, where nation after nation adopted it as a staple food. The colonial movement carried the potato to the rest of the world, where its cultivation has increased greatly.
Varieties of Potatoes
There are about 4000 different types of potatoes. These can be broken down into categories that describe the potato’s appearance: red, russet, white, yellow, and purple. Potatoes can also be classified as either waxy or mealy, depending on the starch content. Waxy potatoes have lower percentages of starch, usually between 16 and 18 percent. They are good for boiling. Mealy potatoes contain around 20 to 22 percent starch.
Potatoes contain two different types of starch: amylose and amylopectin. The type of starch also has an effect on the type of dishes that work best with a particular variety of potato. For example, mashed potatoes are best when made with a variety that contains a high level of amylose.
Popular Potato Dishes
Potatoes are extremely versatile. They can be boiled, baked, or even deep fried. They are used to make everything from main courses to desserts, but they are most commonly served as side dishes. Baked potatoes are baked in the oven. The baked potato is the most popular potato in the world. After baking, they are usually brushed with butter or oil and salted. They can be topped with butter or stuffed with other toppings, such as sour cream, bacon, and chives. Another popular side dish is mashed potatoes. This dish is made by boiling peeled potatoes, then mashing them after the water has been drained off. Milk and butter are added into the potatoes as they are mashed. Potato chips, potato salad, and French fries are also popular side dishes made from potatoes. Leftover mashed potatoes can be used to make pancakes or donuts.
Potatoes contain a lot of carbohydrates, most of which are in the form of starch. Although carbohydrates are often blamed for raising blood glucose levels, it should be noted that some of the starch found in potatoes is a resistant starch that passes through the stomach without being digested. This starch actually increases insulin sensitivity and improves glucose tolerance.
Potatoes also contain significant amounts of several vitamins. A medium-sized potato contains approximately 33% of the U.S. RDA for Vitamin C, 23% for Vitamin B6, 17% for potassium and copper, and 11% of the thiamin and niacin requirements. Other vitamins and minerals found in potatoes include folate, riboflavin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and zinc. They also contain a variety of phytochemicals.