Potato – Helping us to survive for centuries PART 1
In the Andes Mountains, South America, altitude of 2,000 meters above the indian growing corn line, the incas held vast natural riches of incalculable value buried in the ground. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the early sixteenth century, their search target were the silver mines.
However more valuable than silver or gold was the modest plant called papa, known to us as the potato.
Only the potato plant can claim to be the most important in the world not only for its popularity on all tables, but also for its role in history. These tubers have saved people from disappearance through starvation.
With 8-9 centuries before our era, the potato was well naturalized in Peru, being painted on plates and known Aymara in the preincas language as. Eleven names differenced the varieties that have white, yellow, purple or red flowers. The incas have developed a method to freeze and dry the potatoes. First, they dried the thin slices in the sun, and when, at their altitude, the temperature during the night was going down below 00 C, the slices froze, becoming a kind of fries, not too appetizing; because they were taking a dark color, but nutritious with the ability of long storage.
The potato belongs to the Solanaceae family, along with tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. There are 154 wild potato species spread from Chile to northern Mexico. Only 7 species are cultivated, but the 6,000 years of cultivation have developed thousands of varieties. Today, the International Potatos Center in Lima, Peru, holds in its genes banks more than 6,000 varieties.
The Spanish were the ones who introduced the potato to the old world, between 1550 and 1570, at first serving as decoration plant. Often when people or cows consumed green and cruel tubers occured poisoning or skin manifestations, considered as leprosy. The potato fruits, some small grains, contain n alkaloid called solanine, which is toxic.
Outside of Andes is cultivated only one species, Solanum tuberosum. In Europe are cultivated 600 varieties of this species.
In Ireland, with its unproductive soil and harsh climate, potatoes have arrived in the years 1580-1590, proving from the first instance as a blessing. Wheat and rye could only grow in the southern and island sunrise regions, and when repeated invasions have driven the irish people in the mountainous regions in the mid 1600s, they had nothing else but potatoes, which have saved the nation. And while the potatoes were widespread in the irish soil, Scotland priests were declaring them good only for pagans because they are not mentioned in the Bible.
The arrival in England was not easy either. A slogan during the 1765 elections was saying this: “No potatoes, no popery” In despite of this not very favorable advertisements, the potato managed to arrive everywhere. And in times of famine, when were no cereals and the poverty fate was desperate, the potato showed its value not only as flower but also as a nourishing food.
In the famine in 1740, when the french peasants were forced to consume ferns and roots, the potatoes have saved countless lives. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, Dr. Antoine Auguste Parmentier, chemist and nutritionist, very much concerned for the country good, tried to popularize the potatoes throughout France. He convinced Queen Marie Antoinette to wear potato flowers in her hair at a public ball, and the king to have a flower potato at his buttonhole.