Food Guts - Ingredient Information

Ingredient Lookup


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Potato on Wikipedia:

For other uses, see Potato (disambiguation). Potato Scientific classification Kingdom: Plantae (unranked): Angiosperms (unranked): Eudicots (unranked): Asterids Order: Solanales Family: Solanaceae Genus: Solanum Species: S. tuberosum Binomial name Solanum tuberosum L.

The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family (also known as the nightshades). The word potato may refer to the plant itself as well. In the region of the Andes, there are some other closely related cultivated potato species. Potatoes are the world's fourth largest food crop, following rice, wheat, and maize.[1] Long-term storage of potatoes requires specialised care in cold warehouses[2] and such warehouses are among the oldest and largest storage facilities for perishable goods in the world.

Wild potato species occur from the United States to Uruguay and Chile.[3] Genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species suggest that the potato has a single origin in the area of southern Peru,[4] from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex. Although Peru is essentially the birthplace of the potato, today over 99% of all cultivated potatoes worldwide are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to south-central Chile.[5] Based on historical records, local agriculturalists, and DNA analyses, the most widely cultivated variety worldwide, Solanum tuberosum ssp. tuberosum, is believed to be indigenous to the Chiloé Archipelago where it was cultivated as long as 10,000 years ago.[6][7]

Introduced to Europe in 1536, the potato was subsequently conveyed by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world. Thousands of varieties persist in the Andes, where over 100 cultivars might be found in a single valley, and a dozen or more might be maintained by a single agricultural household.[8] Once established in Europe, the potato soon became an important food staple and field crop. But lack of genetic diversity, due to the fact that very few varieties were initially introduced, left the crop vulnerable to disease. In 1845, a plant disease known as late blight, caused by the fungus-like oomycete Phytophthora infestans, spread rapidly through the poorer communities of western Ireland, resulting in the crop failures that led to the Great Irish Famine.

The annual diet of an average global citizen in the first decade of the twenty-first century would include about 33 kg (or 73 lb) of potato. However, the local importance of potato is extremely variable and rapidly changing. It remains an essential crop in Europe (especially eastern and central Europe), where per capita production is still the highest in the world, but the most rapid expansion over the past few decades has occurred in southern and eastern Asia. China is now the world's largest potato-producing country, and nearly a third of the world's potatoes are harvested in China and India.[9]



The English word potato comes from Spanish patata (the name used in Spain). The Spanish Royal Academy says the Spanish word is a compound of the Taino batata (sweet potato) and the Quechua papa (potato).[10] The name potato originally referred to a type of sweet potato rather than the other way around, despite the fact that there is actually no close relationship between the two plants. The English confused the two plants one for the other. In many of the chronicles detailing agriculture and plants, no distinction is made between the two.[11] The 16th-century English herbalist John Gerard used the terms ``bastard potatoes`` and ``Virginia potatoes`` for this species, and referred to sweet potatoes as ``common potatoes``.[12] Potatoes are occasionally referred to as ``Irish potatoes`` or ``white potatoes`` in the United States, to distinguish them from sweet potatoes.[12]


Flowers of a potato plant Russet potatoes with sprouts

Potato plants are herbaceous perennials that grow about 60 cm (24 in) high, depending on variety, the culms dying back after flowering. They bear white, pink, red, blue, or purple flowers with yellow stamens. The tubers of varieties with white flowers generally have white skins, while those of varieties with colored flowers tend to have pinkish skins.[13] Potatoes are cross-pollinated mostly by insects, including bumblebees, which carry pollen from other potato plants, but a substantial amount of self-fertilizing occurs as well. Tubers form in response to decreasing day length, although this tendency has been minimized in commercial varieties.[14]

Potato plants

After potato plants flower, some varieties will produce small green fruits that resemble green cherry tomatoes, each containing up to 300 true seeds. Potato fruit contains large amounts of the toxic alkaloid solanine and is therefore unsuitable for consumption. All new potato varieties are grown from seeds, also called ``true seed`` or ``botanical seed`` to distinguish it from seed tubers. By finely chopping the fruit and soaking it in water, the seeds will separate from the flesh by sinking to the bottom after about a day (the remnants of the fruit will float). Any potato variety can also be propagated vegetatively by planting tubers, pieces of tubers, cut to include at least one or two eyes, or also by cuttings, a practice used in greenhouses for the production of healthy seed tubers. Some commercial potato varieties do not produce seeds at all (they bear imperfect flowers) and are propagated only from tuber pieces. Confusingly, these tubers or tuber pieces are called ``seed potatoes``.


The major species grown worldwide is Solanum tuberosum (a tetraploid with 48 chromosomes), and modern varieties of this species are the most widely cultivated. There are also four diploid species (with 24 chromosomes): Solanum stenotomum, Solanum phureja, Solanum goniocalyx and Solanum ajanhuiri. There are two triploid species (with 36 chromosomes): Solanum chaucha and Solanum juzepczukii. There is one pentaploid cultivated species (with 60 chromosomes): Solanum curtilobum.

There are two major subspecies of Solanum tuberosum: andigena, or Andean; and tuberosum, or Chilean.[15] The Andean potato is adapted to the short-day conditions prevalent in the mountainous equatorial and tropical regions where it originated. The Chilean potato is adapted to the long-day conditions prevalent in the higher latitude region of southern Chile, especially on Chiloé Archipelago where it is thought to have originated.[16] Genetic testing done in 2005 shows that both species derive from a single origin in the area of southern Peru.[17]

There are about five-thousand potato varieties worldwide. Three thousand of them are found in the Andes alone, mainly in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chile and Colombia. They belong to eight or nine species, depending on the taxonomic school. Apart from the five-thousand cultivated varieties, there are about 200 wild species and subspecies, many of which can be cross-bred with cultivated varieties, which has been done repeatedly to transfer resistances to certain pests and diseases from the gene pool of wild species to the gene pool of cultivated potato species. Genetically modified varieties have met public resistance in the United States and in the European Union.[18][19]

Most modern potatoes grown in North America arrived through European settlement and not independently from the South American sources. However, at least one wild potato species, Solanum fendleri, is found as far north as Texas and used in breeding for resistance to a nematode species that attacks cultivated potatoes. A secondary center of genetic variability of the potato is Mexico, where important wild species are found that have been used extensively in modern breeding, such as the hexaploid Solanum demissum, as a source of resistance to the devastating late blight disease. Another relative native to this region, Solanum bulbocastanum, has been used to genetically engineer the potato to resist potato blight.[20]

The International Potato Center, based in Lima, Peru, holds an ISO-accredited collection of potato germplasm.[21]


Potatoes yield abundantly with little effort, and adapt readily to diverse climates so long as the climate is cool and moist enough for the plants to gather sufficient water from the soil to form the starchy tubers. Potatoes do not keep very well in storage and are vulnerable to molds that feed on the stored tubers, quickly turning them rotten. By contrast grain can be stored for several years without much risk of rotting.[22]



The potato originated in the region of southern Peru.[23] However, based on historical records, local agriculturalists, and DNA analyses, the most widely cultivated variety worldwide, Solanum tuberosum ssp. tuberosum, is believed to be a variation indigenous to the Chiloé Archipelago where it was cultivated as long as 10,000 years ago.[6][7]

Potatoes were first domesticated in Peru between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. In the altiplano, potatoes provided the principal energy source for the Inca Empire, its predecessors and its Spanish successor. In Peru above 10,000 feet altitude, tubers exposed to the cold night air turned into chuño; when kept in permanently-frozen underground storehouses, chuño can be stored for years with no loss of nutritional value. The Spanish fed chuño to the silver miners who produced vast wealth in the 16th century for the Spanish government.[24]


Sailors returning from Peru to Spain with silver presumably brought maize and potatoes for their own food on the trip. Historians speculate that leftover tubers (and maize) was carried ashore and planted. Basque fishermen from Spain used potatoes as ships stores for their voyages across Atlantic in the 15th century, and introduced the tuber to western Ireland, where they landed to dry their cod. In 1553, in the book Cronica del Peru Pedro Cieza de Leon mention, that saw it in Quito, Popayan and Pasto. In 1580, English adventurer Francis Drake introduced potatoes into England along with his other Spanish booty when he returned from his famous circumnavigation of the globe. In 1588 botanist Carolus Clusius made a painting of what he called ``Papas Peruanorum`` from a specimen in Belgium; in 1601 he reported that potatoes were in common use in northern Italy for animal fodder and for human consumption.[25]

The Spanish had an empire across Europe, and brought potatoes for their armies. Peasants along the way adopted the crop, which was less often pillaged by marauding armies than above-ground stores of grain. Across most of northern Europe, where open fields prevailed, potatoes were strictly confined to small garden plots because field agriculture was strictly governed by custom that prescribed seasonal rhythms for plowing, sowing, harvesting and grazing animals on fallow and stubble. This meant that potatoes were barred from large-scale cultivation because the rules allowed only grain to be planted in the open fields.[26] In France and Germany government officials and noble landowners promoted the rapid conversion of fallow land into potato fields after 1750. The potato thus became an important staple crop in northern Europe. Famines in the early 1770s contributed to its acceptance, as did government policies in several European countries and climate change during the Little Ice Age, when traditional crops in this region did not produce as reliably as before.[27][28] At times when and where most other crops would fail, potatoes could still typically be relied upon to contribute adequately to food supplies during the colder years.[29]

The potato was not popular in France before 1800. It took time to be popularly adopted, but had widely replaced the turnip and rutabaga by the nineteenth century.[30] Today, the potato forms an important part of the traditional cuisines of most of Europe. Belarus has the highest consumption of potato per capita, with each Belorussian consuming 338 kg in 2005—about two pounds per person per day.[31][32]

19th century Europe

Antoine Parmentier holding New World plants, Francois Dumont 1812

French physician Antoine Parmentier studied the potato intensely and in Examen chymique des pommes de terres (Paris, 1774) showed their enormous nutritional value. King Louis XVI and his court eagerly promoted the new crop, with Queen Marie Antoinette even wearing a headdress of potato flowers at a fancy dress ball. The annual potato crop of France soared to 21 million hectoliters in 1815 and 117 millions in 1840, allowing a concomitant growth in population while avoiding the Malthusian trap. Although potatoes had become widely familiar in Russia by 1800, they were confined to garden plots until the grain failure in 1838–1839 persuaded peasants and landlords in central and northern Russia to devote their fallow fields to raising potatoes. Potatoes yielded from two to four times more calories per acre than grain did, and eventually came to dominate the food supply in eastern Europe. Boiled or baked potatoes were cheaper than rye bread, just as nutritious, and did not require a gristmill for grinding. On the other hand cash-oriented landlords realized that grain was much easier to ship, store and sell, so both grain and potatoes coexisted.[33]

Throughout Europe the most important new food in the 19th century was the potato, which had three major advantages over other foods: its lower rate of spoilage, its bulk (which easily satisfied hunger), and its cheapness. The crop slowly spread across Europe, such that, for example, by 1845 it occupied one-third of Irish arable land. Potatoes comprised about 10% of the caloric intake of Europeans. Other foods imported from the New World included cod, sugar, rice, flour, and rum. These also provided an additional 10% of daily calories and proved a crucial factor in biodiversity of crops, thus preventing famines.[34]

In Britain the potato promoted economic development by underpinning the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. It served as a cheap source of calories and nutrients that was easy for urban workers to cultivate on small backyard plots. Potatoes became popular in the north of England, where coal was readily available, so a potato-driven population boom provided ample workers for the new factories. Marxist Friedrich Engels even declared that the potato was the equal of iron for its ``historically revolutionary role.[25] The Dutch potato-starch industry grew rapidly in the 19th century, especially under the leadership of entrepreneur Willem Albert Scholten (1819–92).[35]


In Ireland the expansion of potato cultivation was due entirely to the landless laborers, renting tiny plots from landowners who were interested only in raising cattle or in producing grain for market. A single acre of potatoes and the milk of a single cow was enough to feed a whole Irish family a monotonous but nutritionally adequate diet for a healthy, vigorous (and desperately poor) rural population. Often even poor families grew enough extra potatoes to feed a pig which could be sold for cash.[36]

A lack of genetic diversity from the low number of varieties left the crop vulnerable to disease. In 1845, a plant disease known as late blight, caused by the fungus-like oomycete Phytophthora infestans, spread rapidly through the poorer communities of western Ireland, resulting in the crop failures that led to the Great Irish Famine.[37]

The Lumper potato, widely cultivated in western and southern Ireland before and during the great famine, was tasteless, wet, and poorly resistant to the potato blight, but yielded large crops and usually provided adequate calories for peasants and laborers. Heavy dependence on this potato led to disaster when the potato blight turned a newly harvested potato into a putrid mush in minutes. The Irish Famine in the western and southern parts of the British-controlled island of Ireland, 1845–49, was a catastrophic failure in the food supply that led to approximately a million deaths from famine and (especially) diseases that attacked weakened bodies, and to massive emigration to Britain, the U.S. and Canada.[38]


The potato diffused widely after 1600, becoming a major food resource in Europe and East Asia. Following its introduction into China toward the end of the Ming dynasty, the potato immediately became a delicacy of the imperial family. After the middle period of the Qianlong reign (1735–96), population increases and a subsequent need to increase grain yields coupled with greater peasant geographic mobility, led to the rapid spread of potato cultivation throughout China, and it was acclimated to local natural conditions.

Boomgaard (2003) looks at the adoption of various root and tuber crops in Indonesia throughout the colonial period and examines the chronology and reasons for progressive adoption of foreign crops – sweet potato, Irish potato, bengkuang (yam beans), and cassava.

The potato was introduced in the Philippines during the late 16th century, and to Java and China during the 17th century. It was well-established as a crop in India by the late 18th century and in Africa by the mid-20th century.[28]

US and Canada

Potatoes were planted in Idaho as early as 1838; by 1900 the state's production exceeded a million bushels. Prior to 1910, the crops were stored in barns or root cellars, but by the 1920s potato cellars came into use. U.S. potato production has increased steadily; two-thirds of the crop comes from Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Maine, and potato growers have strengthened their position in both domestic and foreign markets.

By the 1960s, the Canadian Potato Research Centre in Fredericton, New Brunswick, was one of the top six potato research institutes in the world. Established in 1912 as a dominion experimental station, the station began in the 1930s to concentrate on breeding new varieties of disease-resistant potatoes. In the 1950s–60s the growth of the french fry industry in New Brunswick led to a focus on developing varieties for the industry. By the 1970s the station's potato research was broader than ever before, but the station and its research programs had changed, as emphasis was placed on serving industry rather than potato farmers in general. Scientists at the station even began describing their work using engineering language rather than scientific prose.[39]

Role in world food supply

Top Potato Producers in 2006 (million metric tons)