The Potato Index

In 2009 there were 5,430 acres of potatoes in Dufferin County, yielding 15,200 pounds per acre.

August 19, 2011 | | The Index


n. a starchy plant tuber which is one of the most important food crops, cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
Oxford English Dictionary

The potato, a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), produces tubers on underground runners.

The plants are perennial; left in the ground they will come up year after year. However, because they must be dug up to be harvested, they are usually treated as annual.

Worldwide, there are more than 4,000 varieties of potatoes. Ontario potatoes are classified as long, round whites, round reds or sweet.

Solanum tuberosum Norland, Bauer Grün Rote Auge, Pugh’s Purple, Matsuyama, Belgium and Papa Negra. Photo by Pete Paterson

Solanum tuberosum Norland, Bauer Grün Rote Auge, Pugh’s Purple, Matsuyama, Belgium and Papa Negra. Photo by Pete Paterson

Seeds of Diversity’s heritage plant database ( contains 160 potato cultivars, among them Wee MacGregor, Peruvian Blue and Mom’s Old White. Skin and flesh colours range from red, pink, yellow and white to purple, blue and black.

Potatoes are the world’s fourth largest food crop. They are the largest vegetable crop in Ontario. Solanum jusepczukii is the highest food plant in the world, growing at over 14,500 feet in the Andes.

In 2009 there were 5,430 acres of potatoes in Dufferin County, yielding 15,200 pounds per acre.

south american
Potatoes originated in the Andes Mountains of southern Peru, and were introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers in the second half of the 16th century.

Potatoes contain potassium, vitamin C, B vitamins, folate, fibre and carbohydrates. They are also fat- and cholesterol-free and low in sodium. In fact, they are an excellent diet food, just don’t add butter and sour cream.

Because of a low number of varieties, the European potato suffered from a lack of genetic diversity leaving it vulnerable to diseases like the potato blight in Ireland, from 1845 to 1849, that turned newly harvested potatoes into putrid mush in minutes, leading to a famine that resulted in over a million deaths.

Potatoes contain a toxin called solanine which develops when they are subjected to light, or very cold or warm temperatures giving the tuber a green tinge. Ingestion of large amounts of green potatoes can cause vomiting, headaches, diarrhea and cramps. Potatoes, not mayonnaise, are the culprit that can cause foodborne illness from unrefrigerated potato salad. Commercial mayonnaise is pasteurized and has a high acid content that actually slows bacterial growth. Homemade mayonnaise, made with raw eggs, should be avoided.

well travelled
Potatoes were the first vegetable grown in space in 1995. NASA hoped the nutritious and versatile vegetable would feed astronauts on long space voyages.

The potato chip was invented in 1853 by chef George Crum in a Saratoga Springs restaurant. Crum fried thin slices in oil and added salt after railway magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt sent his dinner back to the kitchen claiming the spuds were too thick. Potato chips account for more than half the salty, packaged snacks consumed in North America.

About the Author More by Cecily Ross

Cecily Ross is an author and freelance writer who lives in Creemore.

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