Although bread is often considered the staff of life, many people would beg to differ because they prefer potatoes. This starch, which is a tuberous vegetable, features prominently in various cuisines and is the fourth largest food crop in the world. Potatoes are inexpensive, yet nutritious, and they play a major role in feeding people globally, including those in famished countries.
Great Taste, Wonderfully Nutritious
Potatoes are a key staple in various entrees and side dishes and can be served at any meal or as a snack. They offer vast nutritional value and are high in vitamins B and C. Potatoes are also rich in minerals including iron, zinc, and potassium, yet aren’t high in calories. However, to obtain the maximum health benefits from a potato, you must consume the entire thing – skin and all. The skin is similar to fiber and is thought to prevent colon cancer while lowering triglycerides.
The History behind this Tuberous Starch
The Peruvians were the first to cultivate potatoes back around 3000 BC, consuming large quantities because even then the lowly spud was known to be an excellent source of energy. In turn, Spanish explorers brought potatoes home, and from there they quickly proliferated throughout Europe. , In particular, the Irish soon began to rely on this inexpensive vegetable to sustain their large families, but unfortunately the Irish potato crops became fraught with disease during the early to mid 19th century, and blight struck between 1845 and 1849. Sadly, more than a million Irish people died from starvation and disease as a result of the Great Potato Famine during this period.
In China, the potato became a favorite of the imperial family in the 1600s. The potato also found its way to the New World, and early crops were planted in Idaho. Today, Idaho is still well-known for being a major potato producer in North America. Other states that produce potatoes include Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine.
The Culinary Potato
Although you might assume that one potato is no different from another, you’d be surprised to know that there are more than 4,000 different varieties of this popular vegetable. Fingerling, Jersey Royal, King Edward, Russet Burbank, and Yukon Gold are just a few of the more common varieties. It´s no surprise that certain types of potatoes lend themselves better to specific recipes and dishes than others. Yukon Gold potatoes, for example, have a golden yellow color and a buttery taste, making them ideal for mashed potatoes. Russet Burbanks have a higher sugar content than some of the other varieties, and thus make terrific French fries and potato chips.
When shopping at your local supermarket, choose potatoes that are firm and not soft. It is best to find potatoes that are unblemished and smooth. Store your potatoes in a cool, dark place – a basement or cellar is ideal. Always cut off any green spots when preparing potatoes – this component, which is a naturally occurring compound, is called solanine and can be poisonous.
Throughout North America and Europe potatoes are almost universally popular. In the United States, potatoes are widely consumed as French fries, hash browns, mashed potatoes, and baked potatoes. American Jews enjoy eating potato pancakes, called latkes, during Hanukkah. Italians use potatoes to make gnocchi, a dumpling-like pasta. The Scandinavian countries boil small varieties known as new potatoes and serve them with dill as a side dish. In England, the locals like their fish and chips, deep-fried cod served with slabs of fried potatoes.
You’ve probably served potatoes in numerous ways from roasting them in the oven to accompany roast beef to including them on a plate with ham and cabbage. They can be baked, then sliced thin, and fried in oil with salt and pepper to make a simple side dish with eggs. You can dice them up and add them to a pot of New England clam chowder or vegetable soup. Boil them until tender and cut them in chunks, then add olive oil, vinegar, and rosemary to make a warm potato salad.
You’ve probably never met anyone who didn’t like potatoes. Since there are so many different varieties, they can be successfully included in a wide range of dishes. One variety might have a bland taste, but can easily be dressed up with adelicious cheese, chopped bacon, and scallions. Another variety may offer a hearty taste, so an array of seasonings isn’t needed. Most types of this versatile vegetable can successfully complement any meat, poultry, or fish. Enjoy your potatoes in different recipes and try them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
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