The Phenomenal Potato

September is National Potato Month!

Over the last decade in the US, with the emergence of the “superfood” craze, the humble tuber has taken a backseat to many other vegetables. This is a shame, because the potato is actually a very healthy vegetable, and you should be eating it!


The potato is now the fifth most important crop worldwide after wheat, corn, rice and sugar cane. So how did this come to be?

According to the National Potato Council, the potato was first domesticated as early as 500 BC by the Andeans of South America. The Inca grew many varieties of potato and held it in high esteem. After the Spaniards arrived in the region in 1532 AD, they introduced the potato to Europe. The Spanish sailors appreciated the tubers for the protection they offered from scurvy (later found to be due to their significant vitamin C content). European rulers championed the potato for their famine-starved public.

As farmers discovered that they could grow potatoes on a large scale on fallow grain land, they grew in popularity across Europe. Ireland relied so heavily on the potato for food that when a rapidly spreading blight devastated the potato crop it caused one of the deadliest famines in history.

The American colonies were introduced to the potato in 1621 when the Governor of Bermuda, Nathaniel Butler, sent potatoes and other vegetables to Francis Wyatt, the Governor of Virginia. They were not widely grown in the US until 1719, when they were first planted in New Hampshire, then later the rest of the country.

Potatoes were being planted in Idaho as early as 1838. By 1900 the state’s production was over a million bushels (around 27,000 tons). Before 1910, the crop was stored in barns or root cellars, but by the 1920’s farmers began using potato cellars or barns.



Potatoes are grown in all 50 states (producing over 30 billion pounds of potatoes each year) and in around 125 countries worldwide. Two-thirds of the US potato crop comes from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Maine. The potato is the second most consumed food in the U.S. following only milk products.

Every year Americans consume about 110 pounds of potatoes per person. However, Europeans have us beat. In Europe twice as many spuds are consumed per person annually.

There are more than 100 varieties of potatoes sold throughout the United States. Each of these varieties fit into one of seven potato type categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite. Go to for detailed information on each category of potato.

For a list of Arizona potato growers click here.


Health Benefits and Nutritional Information

• One medium sized potato contains 110 calories, a one-cup serving of rice has 225 calories and a cup of pasta has 155.
• A medium-sized potato has no fat or cholesterol and is sodium free.
• Potatoes contain a generous amount of vitamin C. When you eat one medium sized potato you get 45% of the DRV of vitamin C. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant by stabilizing free radicals which helps prevent cellular damage.
• Potatoes are a good source of potassium. In fact, they contain more potassium than bananas! One potato supplies 610 mg of potassium while a banana contains 450 mg. Potassium is essential for maintaining proper muscle function.
• One medium potato with skin contains 3 grams, or 12% of the DRV of fiber. Fiber helps with the body’s digestive health.
• There is a wealth of vitamins; minerals and fiber are found in the peel – so eat your potatoes with the peel on. The peel contains the flavonoids, quercitin, and chlorogenic acid, which are antioxidants that may protect the body against certain types of cancer and heart disease.
• Potatoes contain less than 10% of the DRV of carbohydrates. Complex carbohydrates are a great source of energy for the body.
• They also contain vitamin B, calcium, thiamin, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, riboflavin, zinc and iron.


Selection and Storage

When purchasing potatoes look for clean, smooth, firm-textured potatoes with no cuts, bruises, discoloration or sprouts. Avoid “green” potatoes. They have been exposed to light and have a bitter taste. Potatoes can be safely stored in a dry, dark place for up to three months at 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Buy only a week or two’s supply if you must store them at higher temperatures.
Proper Potato Storage:
• Store potatoes in a cool, well-ventilated place.
• You should not store potatoes in a refrigerator. Temperatures lower than 50 degrees can cause a potato’s starch to convert to sugar, resulting in a sweet taste and discoloration when cooked.
• Avoid areas that reach high temperatures (beside large appliances) or receive too much sunlight (on the countertop).
• Perforated plastic bags and paper bags offer the best environment for extending shelf life.
• Keep potatoes out of the light. A pantry is a good storage option.
• Don’t wash potatoes (or any produce, for that matter) before storing. Dampness promotes early spoilage.
If your potatoes green or sprout:
• A build-up of the chemical Solanine caused the potato to green. This is a natural reaction to the potato being exposed to too much light. Solanine produces a bitter taste and, if eaten in large quantity, can cause illness.
• If there is slight greening, cut away the green portions of the potato skin before cooking and eating.
• Sprouting is a sign that a potato is trying to grow. Storing potatoes in a cool, dry and dark location that is well ventilated will reduce sprouting.
• Cut the sprouts away before cooking or eating the potato.



For maximum nutritional benefits you should leave the peel on while cooking. Wash in cool water and scrub with a produce or nail brush (that has been designated for cooking) to remove the trace amounts of dirt that can be stuck in the potatoes pores or eyes. Potatoes can be prepared and served in a variety of ways, including boiled potatoes, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, French fries, hash browns and more.
Julie’s Oven Roasted Red Potatoes & Asparagus
• 1 1/2 pounds Red Potatoes, cut into chunks
• 2 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
• 8 Cloves garlic, thinly sliced
• 4 Teaspoons Dried Rosemary
• 4 Teaspoons Dried Thyme
• 2 Teaspoons Salt
• 1 bunch Asparagus
• Pinch Black Pepper to Taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut up the fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces. In a large baking dish, toss the red potatoes with 1/2 the olive oil, garlic, rosemary, thyme, and 1/2 the kosher salt. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake 20 minutes in the preheated oven. Mix in the asparagus, remaining olive oil (add more olive oil if needed), and remaining salt. Cover, and continue cooking 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Increase oven temperature to 450 degrees F. Remove foil and continue cooking 5 to 10 minutes, until potatoes are lightly browned. Season with pepper and serve. A blend of various colored, small potatoes makes the dish very colorful.
You can find more potato recipes on Fill Your Plate. Click on recipes and search for “potatoes” to view a list of delicious potato dishes.


Fun Facts

In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. That collaborative project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Wisconsin, Madison was conducted with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages and, perhaps, eventually feeding future colonies in space.
• The average American eats over 4 pounds potato chips each year. In 2011, Americans ate 1.5 billion pounds of potato chips.
• The Incas had many uses for potatoes other than dinner like placing raw slices on broken bones to promote healing and carrying them to prevent rheumatism.
• During the 18th century, potatoes were served as a dessert, hot and salted, in a napkin.
• Insects such as bumblebees usually pollinate potato plants.
• To boost their popularity in France, both Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were said to have worn potato blossoms as accessories.

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