The History of Potatoes

The history of potatoes is quite long, so we decided to write a summary about it. The purpose is to give you an idea about how potatoes were found and how they arrived to Europe and North America. Potatoes have existed for more than 10000 years in their native environment in the mountains of South America. More specifically it has been said the area south of Peru is the true point of origin where it extended to the other nearby regions.

The first ones to cultivate potatoes were the Incas in Peru and also in Bolivia approximately about 200 years BC.Potatoes had a tremendous importance in the culture of the Incas. This crop was essential for their survival to such an extent that they even developed a way for dehydrating them. Once the water had been removed from the potatoes they could store them for several years. This technique allowed them to survive even if the crops weren’t successful at times.

It is also believed in the history of potatoes that the plants were used by the Incas as part of a religious ceremony, according to some researchers. The evidence is the pottery found, which was usually made and decorated with different potato shapes.

Potatoes from America to Europe

At the beginning of the 16th century the Spaniards found the potato crops that were used by the Incas. After some time they realized that potatoes could be used as food rations in their long journeys.

Eventually potatoes were carried to Europe by the Spanish explorers.

Around 1570 Spaniards began the cultivation of potatoes but it was mostly used to feed farm animals. During this time little by little the potatoes spread through the European countries. At first the Europeans weren’t so pleased with the idea of growing and eating potatoes for their self sustenance. Around the 17th century the British government and the high class tried to encourage the citizens to consume the exotic tuber but even then people were resisting the idea vehemently.

By 1795 the history of potatoes took another turn as the working class of England began to see the benefits of eating potatoes due to a pamphlet issued by the Board of Agriculture. In a very similar fashion the rest of Europe started to follow the British initiative.

At the end of the 18th century the French were still struggling with the idea of consuming potatoes until Louis XVI started to wear a potato flower as decoration.

flowers of a potato plant

In the kingdom of Prussia, Frederick the Great tried to make the people understand the importance of using the potatoes as a food source.

Even after in 1774 he gave explicit instructions for the citizens to grow the crop and they still were against it. The peasants refused to eat them due to the unusual smell and taste of the potatoes.

In order to prove their value he planted potatoes in the royal field with a guard to watch over them.

Once the local farmers saw what was happening they sneaked in the field and stole some of the plants to grow them in their fields; which was exactly what the king wanted.

a plant of potatoes

Another defining moment in the history of potatoes happened in Russia when the people were also opposed to the cultivation of potatoes. It wasn’t until 1850 when the Czar Nicholas I implemented the previously given order by Catherine the Great to cultivate the interesting tuber.

Potatoes in the European diet

As the Europeans began to develop a liking to the potatoes they noticed the crops were very helpful in mitigating the effects of the occasional famine. The potatoes were very easy to cultivate and they produced more than enough food for entire population.

shepherds pie

The tuber made a positive impact on the health of the citizens as well. Diseases like tuberculosis and measles weren’t affecting the population in the usual manner due to the nutritious properties of the potatoes.

Overall it seemed that the health of the people improved as they included the potatoes in their diets.

This event was very important in the history of potatoes as it proved their incredible value.

Before the 19th century the food regime of the British basically consisted of meats, bread and cheese. The consumption of vegetables was very rare and most of the times was deemed dangerous. In France for example, there were very serious famine outbreaks that appeared from time to time. They could barely produce enough grain to sustain the population.

The potato crop changed all that; it became the center of the agriculture plus it allowed the farmers to grow a wider variety of crops without having to worry about starving. As time went by the population increased due in part to the simplicity of growing the crop, consequently increasing the availability of food. Food problems were becoming a thing of the past and people were really enjoying the new found taste of the potatoes.

New beginning in the history of potatoes

The potato became a major food source to the Irish people but during the 19th century a fungus destroyed the potato crops causing a major devastation. It was during this time that about 750,000 people died and many other people began to emigrate to other countries. This tragic incident was named the Irish potato famine and lasted 6 years.

During the 19th century, a man named Luther Burbank performed several experiments in order to make the Irish potato resistant to the blight epidemic that had disastrous consequences in Ireland.

history of potatoes

He was successful in creating the hybrid potato and eventually sold the rights.

Sometime after the Russet Burbank potato made its appearance in Idaho, which helped develop the potato industry to this day.

French fries were first introduced in United States during the 19th century when Thomas Jefferson served them in the White House while he was president.