As I began pondering the topic for this month, I realized that I have never highlighted the most popular vegetable in the United States - and the world. Though there are some that would debate the fact that potatoes are worth including in the diet, potatoes are the number one vegetable in the shopping cart of more than 60% of American shoppers.
Potatoes are a tuber or root vegetable, belonging to the nightshade family Solanaceae. Vegetables in this family may have inflammatory properties that cause concern for some people, though most of the population is unaffected. A greater concern is concentration of the compound solanine, which is concentrated in sprouted and green sections of the potato peel. This risk can be reduced by proper storage of potatoes in a cool, dark space with minimal light exposure. For optimum quality, store away from onions, which can encourage sprouting. Most potatoes store well for several weeks to a month, but early spring ‘new potatoes’ have a shorter storage life. Potatoes that have green areas or are shriveled or sprouted should be discarded.
Potatoes originated in the Andes mountains of South America, likely in Chile or Peru, though historical evidence isn’t entirely clear. Following the conquest of the Incan Empire, Spaniards introduced the potato to Europe in the late 16th century. It took over one hundred years for the potato to become a staple crop in Europe and played a significant role in the population growth. The increased popularity in crop production and lack of diversity in plant varieties also led to plant diseases and the Great Famine in the 18th century.
Potatoes made their way to the New England colonies in the late 17th century. Today, the top potato producing states are Idaho and Washington, with 15.1 billion pounds and 11 billion pounds, respectively. Production reports also reveal that 25% of the potato crop is consumed in fresh form, while 40% is used in frozen potato products and 23% in chips.
Potatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C and contain more potassium than a banana. They are also a source of complex carbohydrate and fiber, particularly when the skin is eaten. The type of starch found in potatoes, resistant starch, which has been shown to be beneficial form of starch to gut health. Colored varieties, such as gold and purple also provide phytonutrients that are powerful antioxidants that combat free radicals and are beneficial in disease prevention.
Because potatoes vary moisture and starch content, choosing the right potato for the preparation is key to success. High starch/low moisture potatoes like russets are best suited for baking and do not hold their form well in soups. Low starch/high moisture potatoes like most red skin potatoes make the creamiest mashed potatoes and hold their shape well for potato salad. Gold potatoes are a medium starch potato and share characteristics of both low and high starch varieties. Specialty potatoes, like purple potatoes are also a medium starch variety and suitable for most any preparation that red potatoes are.
Like many foods, preparation is key to nutrient retention. Considering that more than half of potatoes consumed are in a frozen or chip form, starting from fresh is a better choice. The recipe below is a favorite preparation at my house. We like to use a medley of petite potatoes, including purple potatoes when I can find them. You can also use russet potatoes cut into strips for tasty oven fries.
Perfect Herb Roasted Potatoes
(makes 6 servings)
vegetable cooking spray
1 pound potatoes (try Yukon gold or a mixture of colored petite new potatoes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon rosemary
½ teaspoon thyme
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Nutrition information: Calories: 89, Total Fat: 2.5g, Saturated Fat: .5g, Sodium: 106mg, Carbohydrates: 15g, Fiber: 1.5g, Protein: 2g
Recipe adapted from MyPlate Kitchen, analyzed by verywellfit.com