Papa (Quechua, Peru), pomme de terre (French), रंगीन आलू (rangin aloo, Hindi), રંગબેરંગી બટાકા (raṅgabēraṅgī baṭāṭā, Gujarati), البطاطس (albatitis, Arabic), 七彩马铃薯 (qī cǎi mǎ líng shǔ, Mandarin)
Potatoes played a key role in ancient Incan agriculture and religion for several thousand years, and Incan farmers produced more than 5,000 different varieties. During Spanish colonialism in the 16th century, a few varieties of potato became a staple crop and key ingredient in many cultural cuisines throughout the world. While only a few varieties of potato have come to represent the the fourth largest food crop in the world, many indigenous farmers throughout Latin America and gardeners in Florida continue to grow a colorful varieties at home.
The potato was domesticated by the ancient Incans between seven and ten thousand years ago, and the starchy food crop was a key food source throughout Latin America for millennia. There are more than 5,000 different colorful varieties of potato, and several wide species can still be found throughout the Andes mountains in Peru, Chile, and Bolivia. The Spanish introduced the potato to Europe and Spanish colonies, including Florida, in the 16th century, where it grew in popularity and eventually spread to Asia. By the 18th century, many European food economies relied on potato production. Unlike farmers in Latin America, however, European farmers relied on only a few species, and this made the crop particularly vulnerable to diseases. A potato blight spread throughout Ireland and the Scottish highlands in the 19th century, where more than a million people died of starvation and millions more fled to the Americas. The potato remains a staple food throughout the world, reigning as the fourth largest global food crop behind corn, wheat, and rice. While many indigenous communities in Latin America continue to produce a wide variety of different species of potato, nearly 99% of global production is based on only a few varieties that descend from a single species. Yet indigenous farmers and home gardeners continue to grow a variety of colorful potatoes today.
Potatoes were a vital part of the ancient Incan food supply for thousands of years; Incan mythology includes the goddess Axomamma who oversaw potato production and ensured a good harvest. The Incas also believed that every crop had a protective spirit named Conopas, and in addition to eating potatoes, Incan people buried potatoes with the dead. The potatoes were globalized during Spanish colonialism and were integrated into a wide variety of different culinary traditions throughout the world, such as Jewish latkes, Indian curried potatoes, chowder, Lebanese Kibbeh, Polish pierogies, Italian gnocchi, and French-fried potatoes. In the United States, potatoes became a staple ingredient in cheesy casseroles, mashed, hash browns, stuffed, and made into chips. The potato not only became a significant ingredient in Florida cuisine, but it also plays a significant role in the agricultural economy in towns such as ‘Spuds’ and Hastings, which is often called “Florida’s Potato Capital.”
Potatoes are rich in vitamins C, B1,B3, B6,B9: and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and potassium. Avoid eating green potatoes, and potato sprouts as they likely contain a higher level of toxic solanine.
Small fragments of potatoes with sprouts or ‘eyes’ are called “seed” potatoes. Once the eyes begin to produce sprout in late winter (February) or early spring (April), they can be planted in well-drained loose mounds. As the plant grows above the surface, potatoes will multiply underground. They should be ready to harvest in approximately ten weeks. Since potatoes are susceptible to pests and diseases, it is a good idea to plant them in different areas each season. In Florida, potatoes store best in the refrigerator.
To start with potatoes and other Florida heritage foods in the home garden, download the ‘Planning a Florida Heritage Garden (PDF).’