The potato is a tuber—a short, thick, underground stem with stored starches and sugars—of the potato plant.
The origins of the potato can be traced back to South American natives who cultivated potatoes in 5000 B.C. in the highlands of the Peruvian Andes mountains. The potato was brought to Europe by Spanish explorers around 1570. Today the potato is one of the most important foodstuff of the western civilization.
The United States ranks fourth in world potato production, with an estimated 1.26 million acres planted in 2001. Russia is the largest producer. With a world harvest of 291 million tons grown in more than 100 countries, potatoes are second only to rice as a world food crop.
There are over a 1000 potato varieties grown all over the world and more than 100 of these are produced in the United States. These varieties are categorized into seven different categories: russet, red, white, yellow, blue/purple, fingerling and petite. The four most popular varieties are:
Medium to large size, oblong shaped, rough brown skin with a white to pale yellow flesh. These have a medium sugar content.
Small to medium size, round to slightly oblong, fairly smooth red colored skin with a white flesh. These have a medium sugar content.
Small to medium size, round to slightly oblong, white colored skin with a white flesh. These have a low sugar content.
Medium to large size, round to slightly oblong. These have a thin pale yellow skin with a yellow flesh. These have a medium sugar content.
Potatoes are one of the richest sources of starch, vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. 100 g provides 70 calories. However, they contain very little fat (just 0.1 g per100 g) and no cholesterol.
In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. NASA and the University of Wisconsin created the technology to do so with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages.