There are few vegetables more versatile than the humble potato. Despite being delicious fried, baked, or boiled, the root vegetable rarely gets the praise it deserves. The environmentally friendly food crop has played a huge role in our development, but rarely do we give our starchy friend a second thought.
A new initiative from the UN Food and Agriculture organization aims to change all that. Ladies and Gentlemen, we are officially living in the International Year of the Potato. The initiative attempts to highlight the importance of the potato and promote potato research and development.
Image: Michelle Tribe
The last time I did any potato research it was jamming some toothpicks in a spud and suspending it over a glass of water. Nonetheless, in the spirit of the International Year of the Potato here are some interesting facts about this king of tubers.
Image: Soil Science
7. They’re Eco Friendly
Potatoes are environmentally friendly. They’re cheap and ridiculously easy to grow, and don’t require massive amounts of fertilizer and chemical additives to thrive (although some growers still use them anyway). They’re also super cheap and good for you, providing you’re not eating them in fried form all the time. This makes them a perfect crop for farmers in the developing world, who can easily grow a nutritious food in adverse conditions.
6. The Potato has been Grown in Space
In 1995, potato plants were taken into space with the space shuttle Columbia. This marked the first time any food was ever grown in space.
Image: Jerry Pank
5. Potatoes Can be Gigantic
The world’s largest potato weighed in at 18 pounds, 4 ounces according to the Guinness Book of World Records. That’s enough for 73 portions of medium fries at McDonalds.
Image: Mike Thompson
4. The Irish Weren’t the First to Eat Them
While potatoes may be synonymous with the Irish these days, they were grown in the Andes mountains centuries before Europeans ever set foot in the new world. The Inca people of Peru were growing them as far back as 200 BC. They were first introduced to Britain and Ireland in the late 1500s. They weren’t an immediate hit either, many people blamed them for diseases and railed against them because they weren’t mentioned in the Bible.
Image: Keith McDuffee
3. “French Fries” are Old
The “French fry” was allegedly served in the U.S. for the first time by Thomas Jefferson at a presidential dinner.
Image: Roberto Verzo
2. They were Royally Fashionable
Potato blossoms used to be the hottest royal fashion accessory. Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were both known to wear potato blossoms to spiff up their outfits.
Image: Gordon Joly
1. It’s an Important Crop
The potato is the most important non-cereal crop in the world, and fourth most important crop overall. Only corn, wheat, and rice are more important. In the US, potato products are the second most consumed food overall, trailing only dairy products.
Image: Robin Tobin
Now that you’re more enlightened on this important plant, go out and celebrate the potato this year. If you have an artistic bent, try joining the International Year of the Potato World Photography Contest. I look forward to the results, I’m guessing the potato will inspire me like never before.