The potato (Solanum tuberosum L.) is a herbaceous species belonging to the Solanaceae family; of this species the spontaneous varieties are not known nor is it known from which original species of Solanum the edible potato originated from Central and South America.
From a systematic point of view the potato belongs to the Eukaryota Domain, Kingdom Plantae, Magnoliophyta Division, Magnoliopsida Class, Order Solanales, Family Solanaceae and then to the Genus Solanum and to the Specie S. tuberosum.
The term potato comes from the homonymous Spanish term and comes from its Indian form in the Nahuatl language, potatl; with the equally widespread use of terms such as “papa” (which in Quechua means precisely Solanum tuberosum) and “batatas” for Ipomoea batatas, the original name of the island Hispaniola. Besides potato and potato, terms with which it spread in the past in Europe, it spread with some names in disuse in dialects of the German language (Patätsche, Pataken). Also in the past in Italy (starting from the 16th century) the term Tartifola was used for similarity to the shape and edibility of the truffle. We find this term in the German idioms “Kartoffel”, in the Bulgarian language “картоф” and in Russian “картофель”. In each nation it then takes different terms depending on the fruits or products to which the potato has been compared.
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
The species Solanum tuberosum, now cultivated, is native to South America (Chile and Peru) and is present today all over the world, where it also grows as a subspontaneous near the crops. Its original habitat was the Andean one and was already cultivated in pre-Columbian times, at altitudes above 2000 m s.l.m., in cold and humid climates. It is therefore adapted to prosper under similar conditions, but this does not exclude that it can be cultivated in a vast variety of habitats.
Solanum tuberosum is an annual plant about 30-90 cm in size with ascending, pubescent stems, with underground stolons producing starchy edible tubers, commonly known as potatoes. The plant has pinnate leaves, with 7-13 segments; flowers gathered in tops, white-rosy petals, yellow anthers. The fruit of the potato is a poisonous, sub-spherical berry, of a green to purple color.
The tubers, the edible part of the plant, develop from the swelling of the hypogeal terminal part of the long underground stolons. The swelling is formed by the transport and accumulation of photosynthesized carbohydrates from the aerial part of the plant, when it reaches maturity. Therefore, the tubers represent a reserve organ. Tuberification is favored by the absence of light, the temperature and the humidity of the soil. The shortening of the day, the low night temperatures and the increase of humidity, in fact, stimulate the stolons to produce a greater quantity of cytokinins, of the plant hormones that favor the cell division. When tuber formation begins, this becomes the main meristem and the growth of all other organs slows considerably.
The pollination of the potato is entomophilous and the main pollinators are the Hymenoptera of the genus Bombus. These insects carry pollen from one plant to another, allowing fertilization. Self-fertilization is not rare anyway. A characteristic common to all potato varieties is the possibility of reproducing by vegetative means; just plant the tubers or parts of them. Some commercial varieties have imperfect flowers and do not produce seeds, therefore they are propagated only by means of the tubers, that is why they are improperly called “seeds”. The fertilized flowers of the solanum tuberosum produce the fruits, which in some varieties are small, green and similar to the cherry tomatoes. Each fruit can carry up to 300 seeds.
The potato, limited to the vegetative phase, can be adapted to very different climates; it is considered a typical renewal crop that opens the rotation. The plantation must be carried out on previously plowed and fertilized soils, arranging the whole tubers or subdivided into the furrows; the density must be around 5-6 plants / m², with 40-50 cm between plants and 80-100 cm between rows. Primaticcia cultivation is sown from November to February, the ordinary one in March-April, the late one in June-July. For the collection are used machines of various types (simple or compound diggers, diggers-harvesters). As the potato is the product of a clonal multiplication and not of a seed reproduction causes the accumulation, year after year, of plant viruses inside the tubers, especially at high temperatures, even if it does not produce problems for consumption, instead it produces a progressive decay of the vital qualities of the tubers themselves, preventing the cultivation of the tubers taken from the harvest for more than a few years. For this reason “seed” tubers are reproduced in a condition to control the spread of viruses.
Uses and Traditions –
According to archaeological findings it was found that thirteen thousand years ago in Southern Chile we ate potatoes of a semi-wild species: the Solanum mesh; the presence of the potato grown in the highest areas of the Andes region dates back to the second millennium BC, followed by probable hybridization with Chilean species, not related to the brevidiurno cycle (which therefore ripen in the first summer) and also to short cycle (from 40 80 days after sowing, against the eight months of the highland potato), it allowed to obtain the known potato, which has spread to most of the world.
It should be emphasized that contrary to what happened to other widely used crops coming from the New World and later spread, with different times and ways, for the whole globe (like tomato or corn), the potato reached a certain success only in North America and Europe, by contrast, was not accepted in China, Japan, and throughout the Islamic area.
In Europe the spread of cultivation was slow; this because of a mistrust towards everything that grew underground. It became known that consumption spread leprosy and to assert (in the Encyclopédie of 1765) that it is “flatulent food”. Mistrust was also caused by cases of intoxication caused by prolonged exposure of the tubers to light (which causes the solanin to produce, which is toxic). The Spaniards knew her from the early decades (1539) of the sixteenth century in Peru but the plant did not awaken particular interests in the Iberian peninsula, more interest met instead in Italy.
In 1600 the French agronomist Olivier de Serres, in his work Théâtre d’agriculture et Ménage des champs, describes in detail the cultivation. The introduction instead of potato (and other exotic plants) is due to Charles de l’Écluse that in the work Rariorum plantarum historia of 1601 and a detailed botanical description.
The spread in England is attributed instead to Walter Raleigh even though the cultivation spread however mainly in neighboring Ireland. On its own, however, England especially spread its cultivation practices abroad. In fact, in his book “Wealth of Nations,” Adam Smith regretted that his compatriots did not appreciate a product that had apparently demonstrated its nutritional value in neighboring Ireland.
However, the spread of the tuber was not uniform: in France, for example, initially involved a few areas of the Dauphine and Alsace (1666) and later the Lorraine (1680) where we must arrive in 1787 to describe it as the main food of the inhabitants of countryside. In other countries then the gradual and not contemporary affirmation.
Among the main properties of the potato we remember that it consists mainly of starch and water, with very few fats but with a not negligible energy value, higher than the average of vegetables and more similar to that of legumes, and which increases according to the type of preparation and cooking, higher if fried, less elevated if steamed. It is rather low in protein but has interesting contents of mineral salts, such as potassium, which is important for muscle function, myocardial contractility and water retention; selenium, antioxidant and important for human fertility; phosphorus, useful for the structure of teeth, bones and cells, and iron, fundamental for all biological functions. Vitamin C, P, K, B1, B2 and B6 are present from the vitamin point of view.
Preparation Mode –
Before counting some of the main uses of the potato, remember that the precautions that must be adopted for conservation are important, in fact the ideal temperature is between 2 ° and 7 °, while at lower temperatures the potato softens turning its content into sugars. It should also be remembered that excessive exposure to light favors the production of solanine, an alkaloid substance present mainly in the skin, which can be toxic if ingested in excessive quantities.
The potatoes can be prepared by cooking in water or steam, fried, roasted, baked and then prepared for various dishes and dishes, including the puree (mashed potatoes) that can also be prepared with the addition of milk and butter and used as a side dish to accompany meat dishes such as goulash, chicken, tripe and braised meat.
With potatoes you can prepare salads, creams, soups, side dishes with various types of cooking and, above all, is one of the most consumed foods in the world.
Typical potato-based preparations are croquettes and other typical dishes of every national and regional cuisine.
In addition, great importance is given to the potato starch that is the starch extracted from the tubers of the potato plant. The potatoes are crushed, thus releasing the starch granules (amyloplasts). The starch is subsequently washed and dried assuming the appearance of a white powder. Being totally odorless and particularly light it is used as a thickener for creams and in pastry in general. Find application, for example, in the preparation of cakes and other baked cakes that helps make them soft.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Pharmacy of the Lord, Advice and experience with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Publisher
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (edited by), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only and do not in any way represent a medical prescription; there is therefore no liability for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.