History of the potato


History of the Potato…from someone who chose this as their specialist subject on Mastermind. 

As some of you may already know, I was recently a contestant on Celebrity Mastermind and my God, I never thought it could be SO HARD to answer questions under pressure. Let’s just say I didn’t quite perform as well as I’d hoped and gave the audience a few laughs, but at least I didn’t say quim this time…

But based on my newly acquired potato knowledge (outside of cooking), I thought I’d share what I learnt after my 4 hours of solid study. Don’t expect this post to be long.

So…where did all the spuds come from?

The humble potato has been around for a very long time (how long exactly is disputed, some sources say 5000BC, some say 8000BC, who knows – I wasn’t there), and was originally cultivated in southern Peru. They were cultivated by the Inca tribe and have since been spread across the world. Potatoes are now grown in nearly every country in the world since being introduced to Europe in the 16th century.The Spanish armies used to carry potatoes to feed their armies, and each place they stopped in on their way to battle adopted the vegetables. All I can say is thank you Peru. 

Who ate them and how did they grow?

For awhile, potatoes were known to be a poor mans food. They began to overtake turnip and swede (rutagaba for my American friends) because they filled people up better and they didn’t start to soften and rot as quickly. After famine in the late 18th century, potatoes grew even higher in popularity. When most crops failed, potatoes usually still managed to produce something for the villagers to eat. Some people started to be afraid of potatoes being poisonous because they often grew underground in the same plots with inedible plants. They are also part of the nightshade family, which people associated with being created by witches. When King Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette began to wear potato flowers as decoration, they became a staple food in more high society meals too. Potatoes had far more nutritional value and also produced a higher yield than the grain the people were already growing, even on a good year, so slowly the fields began to switch over to planting some good old spuds instead.

Ireland’s potato famine

Ireland became one of the largest growers of potatoes in the 17th and 18th centuries, with the entire population consisting of a diet of almost entirely potatoes (heaven). 

Most farmers in Ireland at this time had to grow on tiny patches of land while also trying to keep animals, usually a cow and sometimes the occasional pig. Using these animals and a good potato crop, they could keep their families healthy. Any leftover potatoes would also be fed to the farm animals to save on feed costs. Unfortunately the potato varieties that were being grown in Ireland at this time were prone to disease, and a blight turned all of the harvestable potatoes to a rotten mush before they could be dug up. This blight turned into the potato famine that would kill over a million people from hunger and other diseases. 


There was a French doctor and scientist named Antoine Parmentier who was studying the potato very closely. He discovered the huge nutritional benefits of eating potatoes, which is why King Louis XVI quickly decided they were to be one of the main foods his court would eat at any banquet. Parmentier was praised by the King, saying that France would thank him for finding a way to feed the poor.

A recent history

More recently than the 18th century, potatoes are still one of the most popular and well loved foods there is. I’ve literally got an entire online presence shouting about my love of a good spud! 30th May is actually known in Peru as the National Potato Day, which is something we in the UK really need to stop sleeping on – imagine, hash browns for breakfast, crisps/chips as a little snack, jacket potato for lunch and roasties for dinner, maybe even with a potato doughnut for dessert. What’s not to love! Although tbh most my days look like this. 

Now, quick disclaimer. I’m not academic nor did I do particularly well in school (obvs apart from food tech), so if any of the above is factually incorrect, I’m very sorry. Probs would explain my performance on Mastermind and why I panicked and said potatoes have ears instead of eyes…it was a rough day.