Food Facts & Lore

Potatoes Ain’t From Idaho

Travel back in time, say 10,000 years back to about 8,000 BCE. We’re in Peru, South America, home of the Incas and one of their staple crops, potatoes. Long story short, the Spanish arrive sometime around 1570, collect a few souvenirs, the potato among them; leave their mark, in both desirable and not so cool ways; then head back to Spain where they introduce the root veggie.

Cultivation of the potato spreads through Europe between the 16th and 17th century, but mainly as a source of food for livestock. The 18th century would be underway before the potato was adopted as a nutritious food option for humans. It is then that it made its way back to the American East Coast. Missionaries settling in Idaho were responsible for introducing the now famous tuber to that region. Today, potatoes are cultivated in all US States.

October 1995 marks one giant step for the potato. This is when it became the first vegetable to be grown in space, thanks to technology developed jointly by the University of Wisconsin and NASA. At the time of this writing, it is fair to assume that Mars is the next frontier for America’s favorite starch.

Our love of the potato could have evolved in an entirely different direction, had it not been for famines and food shortages throughout history, mostly resulting from human conflicts that inspired us to take advantage of its relatively easy cultivation and its nutritional benefits. Indeed, Marie Antoinette, Queen of France (18th century), frequently adorned her hair with potato blossoms, causing quite a stir and inspiring the fashion of the day.