What has many eyes, grows underground and is America’s favorite vegetable? The potato, of course! First cultivated more than 4,000 years ago in Peru, potatoes are one of the most common food crops in the world today. In the United States alone, nearly 35 billion pounds of potatoes are grown yearly. On average, each of us eats some 125 pounds of the stuff per year.
The potato is America’s favorite vegetable because they’re naturally nutritious, widely available, versatile and easy to prepare.
Potatoes’ nutrition punch
- Potatoes provide many important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Here are some quick facts about potatoes.
- Potatoes are a very good source of potassium, which is important for heart health and to build strong bones. One medium baked potato provides around 20 percent of the potassium recommended daily.
- Potatoes also are rich in vitamin C, providing nearly 40 percent of the recommended daily value of this important vitamin. Vitamin C is necessary to produce collagen and to help wounds heal. It is also a powerful antioxidant, helping to protect cells from damage by free radicals.
- Potatoes are a good source of dietary fiber. One medium potato with the skin contains 3 grams of dietary fiber. Fiber helps keep the digestive system functioning properly and may help reduce the risk for some cancers and heart disease.
- Finally, though they’re often considered fattening, potatoes themselves are fat-free and relatively low in calories. A medium-sized baked or boiled potato contains about 100 calories. Frying this potato as hash browns or French fries, however, doubles the number of calories per serving.
Selecting and storing potatoes
- When selecting potatoes, choose ones that are clean, smooth, firm and free from rot, sprouts, cracks, sunburn or other damage. Mature potatoes have thick, dry skins and are good for most purposes, depending on the shape. Immature or new potatoes have thin feathery skins and do not keep well at room temperature. They are better for boiling or creaming. Avoid new potatoes with large skinned and discolored areas.
- Potatoes that have a green color have been overexposed to the sun or artificial light. The green color indicates the presence of an alkaloid called solanine, which is bitter and can cause gastrointestinal illness if consumed in large amounts. Because of this, it’s best to avoid green potatoes, or at least the green part. In some cases, only the skin is green and the flesh is not affected. In other cases, the "greening" penetrates the flesh, causing a bitter flavor.
- The best way to store potatoes is in brown, perforated plastic or burlap bags in a cool (45 degrees to 50 degrees F), dark and dry location. Warmer temperatures tend to cause potatoes to sprout and shrivel. Storing potatoes in the refrigerator can cause their starch to turn into sugar, producing an undesirable taste.
- Potatoes do not need to be washed before storing, but should be washed before use. When stored properly, potatoes will generally keep about two months.