Friday, October 18, 2013

Cheap Food Fact-File: Potatoes

Price per kg- 90p per kg (Old Potatoes)
Price per kg- 1.45 per kg (New Potatoes)

The potato is a starchy vegetable, in the “tuber” category. It is consumed cooked (in various ways) and not raw, due to containing toxins harmful to mammals in their raw state. It is believed that the first potatoes similar to what we consume today originated from Peru, around 7000-10,000 years ago. The Spanish introduced the potato to Europe after their conquest of the Inca empire. It is believed that the potato played a strong impact on population growth in Europe and Asia between 1700-1900. Because of the lack of different cultivars varieties post 1900, potatoes were very prone to diseases- with one of these diseases causing a crop failure in Ireland  causing mass starvation, known as the “Great Irish Potato Famine”.

There are over 5000 varieties of potato worldwide. In the UK, potatoes are very popular, and are often sold/described as “fluffy” or “good mashers” or based on recommendations on how particular varieties should be cooked.  “Fluffy” potatoes  (when cooked are fluffy in the middle)are good for baking, for roast potatoes and for chips and include varieties such as Maris Piper or King Edward. “Good mashers”, that when cooked have a nice smooth texture, to be made into soups, sauces and mashed potato, include varieties such as Desireee and Estima. A new potato variety renowned for it’s superior flavour and texture are “Jersey Royal” potatoes, available in Spring. Potatoes can have white, pale brown, pink or reddish skins. All potatoes are white/cream coloured within, with the exception of the recently cultivated and promoted “blue” or “purple” potato- which has purple skin/flesh, which goes kinda blue-ish once cooked. I’ve tried this variety, and to be honest I’m not all that impressed- it looks unusual, but isn’t all that flavoursome.

Health Benefits
Potatoes are a great source of carbohydrates, that contain no fat. It contains numerous vitamins and minerals and natural phenols. Potatoes contain resistant starch, which have found to have similar benefits to fibre consumption, including protection against colon cancer and improving correct insulin release. The majority of vitamins and minerals in potatoes are found in the skin or just underneath the skin. The most nutritious way to consume potatoes are with the skin, and lightly cooked (e.g. Steamed new potatoes, baked potatoes).

Nutritional Information (per 100g, boiled new potatoes with skin)
Calories- 87kcal
Carbohydrates- 20g
(of which sugars)- 1g
Protein- 2g
Vitamin C- 22%

China is the biggest producer of potatoes, producing 88.4 million metric tonnes a year. This is followed by India and Russia.

Interesting Potato Facts
The reason why we use the nickname “spud” for potatoes, is based on a 19th century public health organisation known as “The Society for the Prevention of the Unwholesome Diet” tried to have potatoes banned from being imported and consumed in the UK.

Potatoes were the first “vegetable” (they’re a tuber I know, but whatever) in 1995 to be grown in Space! NASA was doing research on feeding astronauts on long distance voyages / feeding future space colonies through growing their own crops.

Ways we like them
Well, how don’t we like them! Basically every country loves potatoes, in different shapes and forms.  I’ll mention some countries favourite way of eating them!

As well as being consumed, potatoes can be used to make alcoholic beverages, and are often used to make vodka (I’m guessing this is why Russia produces so much? Lol).

Also, potato starch is used, particularly within the food industry, in order to thicken products/sauces, or as a stabilizer.

We do not eat potatoes raw, but we do sometimes eat them cold- crisps or “chips” and various other fried potato based snacks are popular worldwide.

Simple ways we like them include mashed potato (potato peeled, boiled, drained and then mashed- usually with milk/ butter/cream). The baked potato is very popular in the UK and America, where usually large potatoes are baked until soft on the inside, and the skin is crispy on the outside, and serves with various toppings. Boiled peeled potatoes are a common side dish, and peeled diced potatoes are popularly added to soups and stews.

In Britain, we love our chips! Fish and chips are very much considered a national dish. We also like potatoes layered on top of stews, which we call a “Hotpot”. Mash covered mince, baked, are popular national dishes- mash on top of minced beef is known as cottage pie, whilst mash on top of minced lamb is called shepherd’s pie. More recently the veggie version of this is called “shepherdess’s pie”.  We enjoy “roast potatoes” with our special meals and Sunday roasts- roast potatoes should be fluffy in the middle, and crispy on the outside- with many recommending that they should be roasted in duck or goose fat. Bubble and squeak is a traditional dish made with leftover potatoes, cabbage and sprouts, fried up, and served up with leftover cold cut roasted meats. In England, it is common to combine new potatoes with fresh mint. Leftover potato mash can also be fried up with onions, meat, chilli and herbs in order to make a “hash” (of which my friend Nick makes the best corned beef hash in the world!!).

“Colcannon” is a traditional Irish side dish, which is creamy mashed potato commonly mixed with cooked cabbage, parsley and bacon. Potato pancakes are also very popular in Ireland and Scotland.

The French love their potatoes, and often have their own names for potato dishes. Dauphinoise is a layered potato dish, cooked in the oven with cream, garlic, and often topped with cheese. Parmentier potatoes are oven roasted garlic-y peeled diced potatoes, normally garnished with potatoes. “Vichyssoise” (which some argue is an American invention, not French)  is a potato and leek soup, traditionally served cold.

The Italians make gnocchi, which is made and cooked like pasta, but are kinda little potato dumplings.

In south American cuisine, potatoes are very popular (considering that the largest number of varieties are grown there), and are added to classic Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado (beef, onions and tomatoes with fried potatoes and rice) and many sauces, stews and soups. In Ecuador, a dish called “lorco de papas”, a potato, squash and cheese soup, is very popular .

Bryndzove halusky is the national dish of Slovakia, and are kind of potato dumplings, mixed with various other ingredients depending on region.

In Scandinavia, new potatoes are traditionally steamed, mixed with dill and served with Baltic herring.

A Swiss speciality is the rosti, which is a fried potato cake made of grated potato and onion.

“French fries” or fries are very popular in Belgium, France, and America (although because of France’s lack of involvement in the Iraq war, America now call these “Freedom Fries” ).

The Spanish have their Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes with tomato sauce and mayonnaise) as well as their tortilla (not Mexican wraps! Like a frittata, made with eggs, loads of cooked potato, peppers and onions).

The canary islands have a cute sounding dish “wrinkly potatoes”! They are small potatoes, roasted in the over with sea salt until they become “wrinkly”, and served with a smooth pepper sauce called “mojo”.

America is big on their po-taters! Hash browns are triangular shaped fried potato cakes- similar to rosti’s, but a little more “mashed” and deep fried also. Jacket potatoes, with the flesh scooped out, and re-filled with sour cream, chives and bacon are popular in the US- this is a take on a typically French dish called “Arlie potatoes”.  “Latkes” are potato pancakes, eaten a lot traditionally by Jews in America, and often during religious days. The Acadian (French American settlers) “Poutine Rapee” is a boiled orb of mashed potato, with a stuffing of pork in the centre, whilst normal “Poutine” is fried potato served with cheese curds and gravy (these dishes are also very popular in Canada). Potato croquettes (again, French), or known as “tater tots” in America, are piped shapes of mashed potato deep fried.

In India, potato is called “aloo”, and is used in many curries, main courses and side dishes. Aloo Gobi (potato and cauliflower curry) Sag aloo (potato and spinach curry) and Bombay aloo (a dry spiced potato side dish) are popular dishes in Indian Takeaways. A bread fried in butter (paratha) is stuffed with a mixture of mashed potato and either spiced veg or meat, and served alongside curries/dahls. A signature dish for many restaurants in India, as well as a popular street food- is the “masala dosa”- a very thin large long pancake, stuffed with a spiced mashed potato and green chilli mixture.

Although china produces the most potatoes, they do not consume many of them, with rice being their primary starch crop of choice. However, in Northern China where rice does not grow as well, a popular dish is “qīng jiāo tǔ dòu sī”- which is potatoes and green peppers stir fried with vinegar.

My favourite ways with them are again, similar to those mentioned above. A good creamy Dauphinoise potato dish (I like my version with a leeky/oniony layer in the middle) is hard to beat. The way I most often cook potatoes at the moment is roasting new potatoes actually- I just find it easier than peeling and boiling and mashing, or anything else. Just rubbing new potatoes in oil, spices, salt and pepper, and chucking in the oven until crispy and soft works really well, and you can tailor it to any dish depending on what herbs/spices you use. My mum’s potato curry (which I haven’t uploaded onto the blog yet but it is definitely on my to-do list!) is one of my favourite dishes, as is her Lebanese spiced roasted potatoes. I love my Mexican spiced potatoes and pepper recipe- garnished with fresh coriander and cheese- a rather unusual dish but lovely. Leek and potato soup is a delicious classic.

I do like a nice creamy mash, sometimes with a nice dollop of mustard in it. Although thinking back, when I recently made mashed new potatoes with yoghurt and chives (on the blog as a side dish for a delicious chilli), I remember thinking this was one of my favourite ways of eating potatoes. I love jacket potatoes with lots of butter, cheese and baked beans, very very comforting.

Now chips, chippy chips! I am very very fussy about my chips. If you have chips, then I think they should be SOGGY. Like proper chip-shop chips, they should be soft and mushy, and covered in vinegar. I like my fries curly, yum! And wedges, i love wedges with grated cheese and salsa and sour cream to dip in. I think my favourite flavour of crisps are salt and vinegar- salt and vinegar crisps are like THE best thing for a hangover too (not that I’m condoning the over-consumption of alcohol!!! Don’t get me in trouble now!).

If it had to be one potato dish, for the rest of my days, I think I would choose simple cheesy mustardy mashed potato, or perhaps my Aloo Matar  (potato and pea curry) recipe. Overall, potato is a great cheap ingredient, because it’s a good source of carbohydrate (so it fills you up!), helps to thicken sauces/soups/stews/casseroles without having to spend any money on other thickening agents, and can easily bulk up a dish if you don’t have many other spare ingredients to hand.

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