History of the potato
The cultivation of potatoes is believed to date back to 500 B.C. The hardiness of potatoes rendered them the ideal crop for the mountainous regions of Peru, where fluctuating temperatures, poor soil conditions, and thin air made it nearly impossible to harvest wheat or corn. Potatoes didn’t make their way into Europe until the early 1500s. Spanish conquistadors invaded South America in search of gold and silver and began carrying the potatoes back to their homeland aboard their ships. The Spanish sailors appreciated the “tartuffos” (as they were called) for the protection they offered from scurvy (later found to be due to their significant vitamin C content).
Today, roots and tubers are the third largest carbohydrate food source, with potatoes representing nearly half of all root crops consumed (FAO/WHO report 1998). Potatoes are grown in all 50 states of the U.S. and in about 125 countries throughout the world, and they continue to be valued for their durability and the fact that they are nutrient rich. Potatoes have long held the prominent position of being America’s favorite vegetable, and in 2008, 79% of American’s consumed potatoes in-home 2-3 times a week. In October 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space. That collaborative project between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the University of Wisconsin, Madison was conducted with the goal of feeding astronauts on long space voyages and, perhaps, eventually feeding future colonies in space.