The Potato

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					The Potato
The potato originates from Peru.
The earliest domesticated potato is
believed to date back to around 8000BC.
Potatoes were definitely being cultivated in
the Peruvian highlands by 3000 BC,
spreading to coastal regions by about
The Latin botanical name for the potato is
Solanum tuberosum.
The Quechua word for this vegetable is
The English word ‘potato’ comes from the
Spanish term ‘patata’. This emanates, in
turn, from the Spanish pronunciation of a
name used by Caribbean Indians for the
plant we now know as the sweet potato.
Potatoes are very versatile.
They can grow at altitude and in poor soil.
They require little preparation – less than
wheat or maize.
They are a good source of nutrition. They
provide carbohydrate and vitamins A, D
and C.
There are many different varieties of
Potatoes are the staple food of the Incas.
Incas also cultivate other plants with edible
roots, such as the yucca and the oca.
Incas use a type of spade called a taclla for
planting potatoes.
Felipe Guaman Poma, Nueva Corónica y
Buen Gobierno (1615)
Ritual Connotations
 The Incas give some potatoes charming
 names, like ‘one who cries for her Inca’ and
 ‘aborted guinea pig’
 Acosta claims that Incas worshipped
 potatoes that had a strange shape, called
 Chilean legend relates that potatoes were
 created from the body of an Indian chief
 who tried to spy on the Gods and was
 buried underground as punishment.
Spanish discovery
First mention of potato by a Spaniard is in
Spanish feed potatoes to African slaves
and to Indians labouring in the silver mines
at Potosí in Bolivia.
Potatoes not transmitted to Europe until the
     Reception in
Pedro Cieza de León: ‘The potato, when
boiled, is as tender as a cooked chesnut’.
Father Bernabé Cobo: ‘The ordinary bread
they [the Incas] eat is maize, quinua or
chuño, or dry, fresh papas [potatoes]’.
José de Acosta: Describes potatoes as ‘the
bread of that land’. (1590)
Potato considered nutritious.
Castellanos: ‘[The potato] is a food very
acceptable to the Indians, and a dainty dish
even for the Spaniards’. (1536)
Berbabé Cobo: ‘[With chuño] the Spanish
women make a flour more white and fine
than that from wheat, from which they
make starch, sponge cakes and all
delicacies which they usually make from
almonds and sugar; and with the cooked
green potatoes that make the most
delicious fritters’. (1653)
López de Gomara: ‘Men live to the age of a
hundred and more years; not having maize
they use the potato as food’
Potatoes believed to have medicinal
properties. Seen as a beneficial to certain
complaints and as an aphrodisiac.
William Salmon: ‘The leaves of the potato are
manifestly hot and dry in the beginning of the
2nd degree, as manifestly appear by the taste.
But the roots are temperate in respect to heat
or cold, dryness and moisture; they astringe,
are moderately diuretic, stomatick, chylisick,
analeptic and spermatogenetic. They nourish
the whole body, restore in consumptions and
provoke lust’. (1710)
Potatoes good for ‘fluxes of the belly’,
‘ulceration of the lungs’ and ‘impotency in men
and barrenness in women’.
Potato evokes suspicion.
First tuber that Europeans have seen.
Related to poisonous plants like deadly
nightshade and henbane.
Believed to cause leprosy because lumpy
shape resembles nodules on lepers’
hands. Doctrine of signatures.
Enlightenment reformers promote the
potato as a substitute for wheat in times of
Antoine Parmentier champions potato
consumption in France.
Frederick the Great encourages potato
consumption in Prussia.
British adopt the potato during the
Napoleonic Wars.
Irish embrace the potato.
Climatic conditions suit it. Warm and wet.
Potato grows in small plots and poor soil.
Requires little equipment to cultivate or
Edward Wakefield estimates in 1811 that
the average Irishmen consumes 5.5 pound
of potatoes every day.
The Potato Debate
1780s-1830s – English commentators
debate whether the potato is a blessing or
a curse to the Irish.
William Cobbett says it perpetuates
Thomas Malthus says it causes over-
Arthur Young thinks it is nutritious and
enables Irish to survive in adverse
Compare with the ‘Tortilla Discourse’ in
Potato blight strikes Ireland in 1845.
Continues into 1846, killing 90% of the
1 million Irish die from starvation, or related
1.3 million Irish emigrate as a result of the

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