What's your favorite way to eat potatoes? Mashed, baked, french-fried… there's no end to the ways potatoes can be cooked.
The English word “potato" comes from the Spanish word patata. Patata, in turn, comes from batata, which was a South American Indian word that originally referred to the sweet potato.
Oddly enough, the sweet potato plant and “regular" potato plants are completely different plants that are not closely related. Instead, the potato plant is more closely related to the eggplant and tomato.
Potato plants are perennials that grow low to the ground like vines. They have heart-shaped or oval leaves and small purple or white flowers. Wild potato plants also produce small, inedible green berries as fruit.
The part we know as the potato, though, grows underground. It's called a "tuber," and it grows from the end of underground stems below the roots of the plant.
It's from these buds that new potato plants can grow. So even though a potato's eyes can't help it see underground, they can help grow more potatoes!
Potatoes were first grown more than 10,000 years ago in the Andes region of Peru in South America. Spanish explorers brought the potato to Europe in the 1500s.
Europeans brought potatoes to North America in the 1600s. Today, potatoes are the world's fourth-largest food crop, behind rice, wheat and corn.
There are now more than 1,000 different types of potatoes around the world. China produces the most potatoes of any country in the world.
In the United States, Idaho and Washington produce the most potatoes each year. Other states with major potato crops include North Dakota, Wisconsin, Colorado, Oregon and Maine.
Fun potato facts:
- A potato is about 80 percent water, 15 percent carbohydrates and 4 percent protein. Potatoes are good sources of vitamin C, niacin, thiamine and fiber.
- The potato nickname “spud" comes from the act of digging a hole before planting and is probably related to the English word “spade."
- The green parts of a potato's skin, as well as the leaves of the potato plant, contain a toxic compound. Although poisoning from potatoes is very rare, it's always best to cut out green areas when peeling potatoes before cooking.
- The average American eats more than 125 pounds of potatoes each year.
- The first vegetable to be grown in space was… you guessed it… the potato!