The earliest recorded trace of the spud was found in the Peruvian Andes at around 6000BC. Research implies that communities of hunters initially came to the South American continent 7000 years before harvesting wild potato plants. The plants sprouted around Lake Titicaca situated high up in the mountains.
Andean farmers discovered that potato growth prospered at higher altitudes and was subsequently planted in the ‘valley zone’. Civilisations expanded around the Lake Titicaca area mainly fuelled by the successful growth and harvesting of maize and potatoes. The Huari civilisation emerged in about 500 AD which eventually developed into the state of Tiahuanacu which, among its neighbouring settlements, accounted for a population of around 500,000!
The Inca civilisation grew in the Cuzco valley in 1400 after the demise of Huari and Tiahuanacu over the years 1000 to 1200. This became the largest and fastest growing settlements in the Americas. They improved upon the agricultural approaches of their ancestors and boosted maize and potato production further. One potato dish called chuño was the main food items eaten by officials, soldiers and labourers and even served as back-up stock for crop failings. At this point potatoes were deeply embedded into Andean culture - it was labelled the “people's” food and played a fundamental part in the people’s vision of the world; for example, time was measured by how long it took to cook a spud!
In 1532, the Incas were invaded by the Spanish which ended their reign over the land. This invasion led to the introduction of the potato in Europe after Spanish explorers returned with the crop to their shores.
The precise occurrence of the spud being first introduced to Ireland remains unknown. There are several versions of the story – one version suggested it was introduced by British explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, another implies that potatoes floated up on the shores of Cork after the wreckage of a Spanish Armada ship. Nonetheless, in 1589 Raleigh did plant potato seeds at his Irish estate in Cork before offering them as a gift to Queen Elizabeth I.
The potato carried on its journey to wider European countries through the hands of sailors who brought the spud to different ports. The spud had a shaky start with farmers who labelled them as distrustful, but it soon became a staple food and crop which inevitably played a role in the 19th century population boom.
The middle part of the 19th century proved troublesome for the spud during the “Great Famine” in Ireland which occurred through 1845 – 1849. During this time, the potato crop became diseased leaving many people to emigrate from Ireland to survive. Trade halted and with that unemployment followed suit leaving a drought of opportunities. Over half of Ireland’s citizens emigrated to the likes of North America and Australia.
Today there are over a thousand types of potatoes and have subsequently become an integral ingredient to many of the world’s cuisines. It is the fourth largest food crop on earth trailing rice, wheat and maize. It has also spread to uncharted territories in Southern and Eastern Asia in the past few decades – now nearly a third of the world’s potatoes are grown and harvested in China and India alone.
Appreciate the multicultural roots of the potato with our wealth of potato recipes right here on LovePotatoes, from homey comforts to more exotic guises, there's certainly a whole bunch of delicious discoveries ahead.
This campaign was originally produced in the framework of a programme co-financed by the European Union