That’s right, it’s the best holiday on the calendar: National Potato Day! Okay, we’re kidding. But only sort of. Potatoes are a staple crop and a favorite starch of millions of people around the world.
Since their discovery by the earliest inhabitants of the Americas, potatoes have fed entire cultures. After being brought to Europe, the delicious spud rewrote the game for poorer nations and gave peasants a cheap, easy-to-grow staple crop.
While we love our potato chips, baked potatoes, French fries, and tater tots in the modern era, potatoes have been a part of human diets since 8000 BCE. Let’s take a closer look at these tasty, starchy veggies.
Potatoes in History
The first people to cultivate potatoes on purpose were the Incan people of the steppes of Peru. For thousands of years, potatoes filled the bellies of Incan society, and the ancient civilization cultivated over 4,000 species of the vegetable.
When the Spanish arrived in the region in 1536, Conquistadors invaded the region of Peru where potatoes were grown. While the Spanish’s actions in the Americas during the 16th Century could fill a book (and they have), we’ll keep this brief.
Among many other crops and precious minerals, the potato was brought back to Europe by the Spanish. Once it was introduced to the region, the people of Europe quickly learned that the spud was a cheap, easy-to-grow crop that could grow almost anywhere on Earth. As such, it quickly became a staple around the world.
This is why the potato is so common in so many different culinary traditions. In short, it’s impossible to overstate how much produce from the Americas changed European diets. Imagine Italian cuisine without tomatoes, or Russia without potatoes.
How to Observe National Potato Day
All of this is to say, there are a lot of ways to have potatoes. French fried? Love that. Hashbrowns? You bet! Baked, diced, fried, mashed, in a stew, these are all excellent ways to prepare your spuds. So, how should you enjoy National Potato Day? Any way you see fit is the right way!
Maybe you could head to your favorite fast food place and snag some French fries. Or, you could make baked potatoes at home and serve them for the family. There’s always the fan-favorite potato chip, an ever-present snack food at parties. You could even opt or something more involved, like scalloped potatoes.
No matter what you pick, you’re engaging with the ancient history of one of humanity’s most enduring staple crops.