Potato is the term which applies either to the starchy tuberous crop from the perennial plant Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae, or nightshade, family, or to the plant itself. Potato is the world's most widely grown tuber crop, and the fourth largest food crop in terms of fresh produce Â— after rice, wheat, and maize (corn).
The potato originated in the area of contemporary Peru and Bolivia, identified more specifically in research published by David Spooner in 2005 as an area of southern Peru, just north of Lake Titicaca. The potato was introduced to Europe around 1700, and subsequently by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world. Thousands of varieties persist in the Andes, where over 100 varieties might be found in a single valley, and a dozen or more might be maintained by a single agricultural household.
Once established in Europe, potato soon became an important food staple and field crop. Lack of genetic diversity, due to the fact that very few varieties were initially introduced, left the crop vulnerable to disease. In 1845, a fungal disease, Phytophthora infestans, also known as late blight, spread rapidly through the poorer communities of western Ireland, resulting in the Great Irish Famine. The potato is also strongly associated with Idaho, Maine, North Dakota, Prince Edward Island, Ireland, Jersey and Russia because of its large role in the agricultural economy and history of these regions.
Potatoes contain a number of important vitamins and minerals. A medium potato (150g/5.3 oz) with the skin provides 27 mg vitamin C (45% of the Daily Value (DV)), 620 mg of potassium (18% of DV), 0.2 mg vitamin B6 (10% of DV) and trace amounts of thiamin, riboflavin, folate, niacin, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Moreover, the fiber content of a potato with skin (2 grams) equals that of many whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals. In addition to vitamins, minerals and fiber, potatoes also contain an assortment of phytochemicals, such as carotenoids and polyphenols. The notion that Â“all of the potatoÂ’s nutrientsÂ” are found in the skin is an urban legend. While the skin does contain approximately half of the total dietary fiber, the majority (more than 50%) of the nutrients are found within the potato itself. The cooking method used can significantly impact the nutrient availability of the potato.
Potatoes are often broadly classified as Â“highÂ” on the glycemic index (GI) and thus are frequently excluded from the diets of individuals trying to follow a Â“low GIÂ” eating regimen. In fact, the GI of potatoes can vary considerably depending on the type (i.e., red vs. russet vs. white vs. Prince Edward), origin (i.e., where it was grown), preparation methods (i.e., cooking method, whether it is eaten hot or cold, whether it is mashed or cubed or consumed whole, etc), and what it is consumed with (i.e., the addition of various high fat or high protein toppings) (Fernandes et al. 2006).
Potatoes are prepared in many ways: skin-on or peeled, whole or cut up, with seasonings or without. The only requirement involves cooking to break down the starch. Most potato dishes are served hot, but some are first cooked then served cold, notably potato salad and potato chips/crisps.
Common dishes are: mashed potatoes, which are first boiled (usually peeled), and then mashed with milk or yogurt and butter; whole baked potatoes; boiled or steamed potatoes; French-fried potatoes or chips; cut into cubes and roasted; scalloped, diced, or sliced and fried (home fries); grated into small thin strips and fried (hash browns); grated and formed into dumplings, RĂ¶sti or potato pancakes. Unlike many foods, potatoes can also be easily cooked in a microwave oven and still retain nearly all of their nutritional value, provided that they are covered in ventilated plastic wrap to prevent moisture from escapingÂ—this method produces a meal very similar to a steamed potato while retaining the appearance of a conventionally baked potato. Potato chunks also commonly appear as a stew ingredient.
Potatoes are boiled between 10 and 25 minutes, depending on size and type, to become soft.
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