Potatoes: America’s Most Popular Vegetable
There are many more nutrients in potatoes than expected. For example, a medium potato contains more vitamin C than a medium tomato. One medium potato also contains more potassium than a banana, a mineral that the majority of Americans do not consume the recommend daily amount in their diets. Potatoes are also a source of vitamins and minerals such as magnesium, iron, vitamin B6 and antioxidants.
The versatility of potatoes makes them a go-to choice for family meals. Potatoes count toward the recommended daily servings of vegetables, and more vegetables are typically served at meals where potatoes are included. There are countless ways to prepare potatoes, whether in traditional, international or contemporary cuisine, and potatoes easily meet the standards of picky eaters and children. It’s no surprise they are the most popular vegetable crop grown in the U.S.
To retain the most possible nutrients while cooking potatoes, cook them with their skins intact. Also, steam or microwave potatoes, rather than boiling them, because water draws many of the nutrients out of the food into the water during cooking. Store potatoes in a cool dark place at a temperature between 45 and 55 degrees; cold temperatures below 45 degrees for an extended period of time can cause the starches in a potato to convert to sugar, losing some of its taste and nutrients.
Although there are more than 100 varieties of potatoes available in the United States, each variety fits into one of seven types: russet, red, white, yellow, blue or purple, fingerling and petite. Each of these categories has hundreds of different varieties, all with a different flavor, texture and sugar content. The smaller potatoes, such as fingerlings and petites, have the same flavor as larger potatoes within the same variety, but more concentrated.
Potatoes were first grown in Peru by the Inca, who began cultivating the crop between 8,000 and 5,000 B.C. Europeans discovered the potato in the mid-1500s when the Spanish conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire and returned with the vegetable. Because they are easy to grow compared to other staple crops such as wheat and contain many essential nutrients and vitamins, potatoes quickly gained popularity and spread throughout Europe.
The vegetable’s widespread popularity became a problem, however, in the 1840s when a potato blight, a disease affecting only certain plants, struck Europe and destroyed much of the crop. This event, known as the Irish Potato Famine, led to starvation and many people choosing to immigrate to North America. In the United States, potatoes were not introduced to until the mid-1600s, and it wasn’t until 200 years later that farmers began growing them in Idaho, a state now well-known for its spuds.