In a 1998 study, Man on Earth, of how we have adapted to the different places we have colonised on earth, John Reader included a chapter on ‘The Potato Growers’, which shows just how really useful the potato is.
Compared to grain growing, worldwide potato growing has a short history – 400 compared to 4000 years – but one that has seen it become a staple crop in many areas.
One good reason for this is that potatoes grow tolerable well under a wider range of conditions than competing grain crops, being not too choosy over soil type, climate or even altitude.
Another is that potatoes are very productive, producing more energy per field per day than any other crop, something they do while growing very quickly – a potato crop matures after a maximum of 120 days and can produce an edible crop after 60.
But it’s not all down to how easy and quickly potatoes grow, it is also down to how much good they do when we get around to eating them.
Potatoes are such a good mix of carbohydrate and protein that if you eat enough to get all the energy you need [from the carbohydrate], you also get pretty much all the protein you need as well.
And this is ‘high value’ protein, one which scores well when it comes to how much our bodies absorb and use, significantly higher than corn or wheat protein.
Add in the vitamins – before we had so much fruit, we used to get about a third of our vitamin C from potatoes – and it is easy to see why they are perhaps the world’s most effective means of converting work on the land into a tasty food.