History of the Potato

History of the Potato

The journey of the humble spud is an intriguing one to say the least. Its story has touched a variety of cultures along the way before become one of the world’s biggest foods. Allow us to take you back to ancient times where our story begins!

8000 years ago

The first emergence of the spud has been traced back to the Peruvian Andes at around 6000BC. Allegedly, communities migrated to the South American continent about 7000 years before the presence of wild potato plants which first sprouted up around Lake Titicaca located at a high altitude in the mountains.

500 AD – 800 AD

The Andean farmers worked out that potato growth was more successful at higher altitudes – potato seeds were then planted in what was called the ‘valley zone’. The successful growth of maize and potatoes around the area allowed to civilisations to explode around Lake Titicaca. In around 500 AD, the Huari civilisation emerged and subsequently the area became known as the state of Tiahuanacu; alongside its neighbouring settlements the state had a population of around 500,000!

1000 AD – 1400 AD

The Cuzco valley became inhabited by the Incas in 1400 at the dissolution of the Huari civilisation and the state of Tiahuanacu in the years 1000 – 12000. This was the largest and fastest expanding settlements in the Americas at the time. They became more and more advanced in the agricultural approaches set down by their ancestors which brought about a tremendous boost in maize and potato produce. A potato product called chuño became one of the main food items, these were freeze-dried potatoes and lasted a lot longer than your regular spud – these also became backup stock for any failed harvests. The potato was referred to as “the people’s food” being deeply embedded in the Andean culture; time was even measured by the spud based on how long it took to cook.  

1500 AD – 1800 AD

The Spanish invaded the Incas in 1532 which concluded their rule of the land, this particular event led to the potato’s introduction to European shores after the Spanish returned to their lands with the crop in cargo.

There are several versions of the spud’s introduction to Irish shores, the actual occurrence still remains unknown. One interpretation suggests it was Sir Walter Raleigh who introduced it after returning from his explorations, another proposes that potatoes washed up on the shores of Cork as a result of a Spanish Armada ship’s wreckage. As a result of either occurrence, Raleigh did in fact plant potato seeds at his Cork estate in 1589, and eventually extended them as a gift to Queen Elizabeth I.

1800 AD – 1900 AD

The journey of the potato continued to wider Europe in the possession of sailors who brought the crop to various ports. It was initially snuffed by farmers who saw them as distrustful and a concern, however, it overshot that to become a staple crop which played a very significant role in the population boom of the 19th century.

A troublesome tide undercut the spud in the mid-19th century during the “Great Famine” of Ireland in 1845 – 1849. After a widely diseased potato crop, many people were forced to leave Ireland in order to survive. Unemployment and halted trade left a pretty hopeless situation for the people with an absence of any opportunity and limited food. The “Great Famine” saw over a half of the citizens emigrate to the likes of Australia and North America.

2000s

In the current day, there are over a thousand types of potatoes, and it’s become a fundamental ingredient to a vast majority of the world’s cuisines. It currently sits at number four on the largest food crop on the planet following rice, wheat and maize. In the past few decades, the potato has hit the likes of Southern and Eastern Asia which uncharted territory for the crop. Now, nearly a third of the entire planet’s potatoes are harvested in India and China.

So there you have it, the full multicultural journey of the potato! Check out our large archive of potato recipes where you’ll find dishes ranging from simple, homey comforts to the more experimental and exotic! Regardless, there’s an abundance of delicious discoveries to be unearthed!