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This is The History of The Potato | Are Potatoes Poisonous or Evil?

Updated on December 12, 2010
Van Gogh's "Peasant Woman Peeling Potatoes"
Van Gogh's "Peasant Woman Peeling Potatoes"

The History of The Potato

The potato can trace itself back to roots in the Andes Mountain region of South America. In 5000 B.C. the Pre-columbian people started farming the potato. In it's 7000 year existence as a culinary staple it's made it's way into many different recipes, religious arguments, and even weapons.

Needless to say the potato is a very diverse and odd food. Let's take a look at the potato and find out what makes it so interesting.

We will examine the following aspects of the potato:

Foods Made with a Potato

There are recipes all around the world that use potatoes. The potato is a widely and commonly used food. Although there are many different types of people and varieties of potatoes around the world many cultures share the same recipes for preparing the potato.

Some of these recipes are those that are more common like baked potatoes, potato chips and mashed or smashed potatoes also widely used as a form of potato dish are none other than the french fried potatoes.

The more culturally focused foods are those like people in the United Kingdom enjoy such as humble pie or bangers and mash. In Northern Europe there are many recipes for pudding that call for the use of potatoes.

Then you have the people of Peru that have over 3,000 different varieties of potatoes. The Peruvian people use potatoes to make many different dishes that include papa a la huancaina and carapulcra.

These recipes and many others can be found in books from Amazon.

Van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters"
Van Gogh's "The Potato Eaters"

The Potato in Art

Vincent van Gogh had many great works of art over the course of his lifetime. Over the course of his career Van Gogh had many works that incorporated potatoes. These works were usually that of peasant farmers harvesting or planting potato crops.

In fact one of Van Goghs most famous and recognized paintings was "The Potato Eaters"(1885).

During Van Gogh's lifetime he only managed to sell one painting, "The Red Vineyard". It sold for 400 Francs only months before his death. He died from a self inflicted gunshot wound, a broke and disturbed man.

Van Gogh left this world with many great works of art including those that depicted our friend the potato in some form or other.

The Potato as a Weapon

We all know the potato as a side dish and even an entrée, but a weapon? Well let's see... If uncooked a potato is pretty hard and isn't very heavy so if thrown or launched it could probably do some damage.

Now add PVC pipe, a can of hairspray and an ignition switch and you have a weapon of sorts.

The potato gun goes by other names like the spud gun and potato cannon. In any case the potato gun is a fun weapon to play with but in some cases can be a very serious and dangerous weapon. Even though more of a toy or hobby the potato gun is something to be handled with respect.

Are Potatoes Poisonous?

We all know that you can safely eat a potato without worry of becoming ill. The potato does however contain toxic compounds known as glycoalkaloids. The most distinct of these compounds being solanine and chaconine.

The toxcin solanine affects the nervous system causing confusion and weakness.

These poisons are concentrated to the potato plants stems and leafs. This protects the potato plant from predators. Cooking the potato at high temperatures some what kills the poison, effectivly making the potato more edible.

Gycoalkaloid exposure in it's most extreme form may cause coma or death. The more common of these symptoms are headache, diarrhea and cramps. Poisoning from potatoes is a very rare occurrence and yes it is still alright to eat potatoes. People have been doing it for thousands of years.

Are Potatoes Evil?

The potato has been marked as evil by many people who have encountered it on it's journey around the world. When the potato made it's arrival in European countries people thought that it was evil and caused diseases. In most cases this was caused by none other than it's odd shape and the fact that it came from the ground.

The potato was blamed for causing leprosy, scrofula, rampant sexuality, sterility among a host of other diseases.

It's even said that the Catholic Church declared the potato an evil object and was the work of the devil.

One story may explain more on why people may have thought the potato was evil. Keep in mind I have no way to validate this story and the story itself may very well just be a fable made up by people who feared the potato to be evil.

Sir Walter Raleigh brought the potato to Ireland and planted them at his estate Myrtle Grove. It is legend that Raleigh having brought the odd shaped food back from the America's had gifted potatoes to Queen Elizabeth I.

The Queen's chef's knowing little about the potato and how to prepare it threw out the actual potato and cooked the leaves and stems instead. The dishes were served and the guest became deathly ill.

First Mr. Potato Head Commercial

The Potato Toy

The potato made it's way on to the toy shelves in the late 50's with the introduction of Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. When Potato Heads first came out you had to supply your own potato to place a pair of eyes, a nose, mouth, ears and hat. These were the very first toys advertised on T.V.

As time went on the Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head kits came to include a plastic potato to place all the body parts on.

The Potato Head has been a very popular children's toy ever since it first appeared. It has also went on to be featured in a series of movies from Disney/Pixar called "Toy Story". We expect to see the Potato Heads for many more years to come.

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    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 5 years ago from Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. I hope you add more potato lore from time to time and maybe make a hubs group including recipes.

      When I was a kid and my mom was making a meat and potatoes supper, it was a treat to get a salted slice of raw potato. Is it not a good idea to eat raw potato?

      One time I read about a country in Africa with a creation of humankind myth that includes the divine gift to humans of the potato. Of course the potato did not get to Africa until sometime after Columbus put the Americas on world maps.

    • Richieb799 profile image

      Richieb799 7 years ago from Cardiff, Wales UK

      I fun hub to read about, I say potaito, you say potarto :P

    • profile image

      Tarik Aridi 7 years ago

      Ahhhh, So Gobbledok commercials are a some sort of warning that potato may call Satanism.

      Due to a subject which is "Are potatoes Evil""

      It might be Right????

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 8 years ago from Houston, Texas

      You really made this hub interesting. Enjoyed it.

    • profile image

      PotatoMan 8 years ago

      Potatoes are cool.

    • Ken R. Abell profile image

      Ken R. Abell 8 years ago from ON THE ROAD

      Great read. Very interesting & informative. I learned lots that I did not previously know. Thank you.

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