16 APR 2023

Potato, Potato, Potato

Foundation of the modern world

The potato, it’s been with us forever, it’s so mundane and everyday it’s hardly worth thinking about, right? Wrong! We travel from Axomama, an Andean potato goddess, through it’s spread across Europe (correcting several incorrect anecdotes along the way) to modern day China where’s the humble potato is celebrated in song!

From South America…

The potato was domesticated at least 8000 years ago around Lake Titicaca high in the Andes. A member of the deadly nightshade family wild potatoes are poisonous so the transformation from toxic tuber to tasty treat would have been slow and fraught with peril.

The root of this same plant, which is about three palms high are attached under the earth, and are the size of an egg more or less, some round and some elongated; they are white and purple and yellow, floury roots of good flavour, a delicacy to the Indians and a dainty dish even for the Spaniards.

Juan de Castellanos, 1601

High in the Andes mummified children have been discovered, sacrificed to appease the Incan gods and goddesses including Axomama the potato goddess.

Waka qallu - cow's tongue. Puka pepino - red cucumber. Quwi sullu - guinea pig fetus

Several local names of potatoes still grown in Peru

Raised Field Agriculture

The Tiwanaku people of the Lake Titicaca basin practised raised field agriculture. This ingenious method captured the sun’s heat in water canals during the day cooling the raised fields but released the heat at night stopping frosts.

To Europe

A relatively recent arrival to Europe and much of the world this not so simple vegetable has had a very big impact on the modern world. Easily outstripping the nutritional value of grains and other primary crops it can be argued the modern world - and Europe’s - would not have been possible without it.

On 27 December 1573 the Hospital de la Sangre in Seville purchased potatoes for the very first time. This is one of the earliest accounts of potatoes in Europe and the dates and increased number of purchases shows they must have been grown locally.

No one is sure who first brought them to Europe but they were soon adopted by peasants, first for their own consumption then as a field crop for sale. There are few records showing the exact speed and direction of their spread however after Spain they were most likely grown in Italy, south Germany and the Low Countries - spreading with the movement of Spanish soldiers and holdings.

Potato powerhouse

The nutritional value of potatoes far exceeds most other crops. Since the 1960s they’ve been the fastest growing of the major food crops and are now the fourth most important globally. There are arguments that this increase in available nutrition helped power the rise Europe, exploration, industrialisation and conquest.

However our modern potatoes are based on just a handful of the 150 plus wild species leaving them vulnerable to pests and disease such as blight.

Today the International Potato Center leads many initiatives to help communities globally grow potatoes. Their work, both in the lab and out in the field, is helping feed the growing populations of developing nations.

Further reading


This transcript is automatically generated so may contain errors.

Audio file

CoaC EP 46_speech.mp3


The Earth mother Pachamama watches over all the Inca bringing fertility to the undies. But if you take too much from her, she shows her anger, sending earthquakes to make the land tremble. Every trade must be fair, and their power must be respected. There's excitement and festivities, dancing, singing, music, patchy. Mamma is to be worshipped. A girl just 15, is led to the peak of a volcano. The air is thin, cold, the journey hard. But she knows what she must do. The girl sits in the hard frozen ground, scared but peaceful. She's been giving Coco leaves and alcohol. And she waits. Frost and raves, her shivering body had shelled breath no longer visible in the air as he huddled against the elements. Taking one last look at Pachamama, the Earth mother and her daughters axomamma the potato goddess and Mamma killer, the moon goddess who illuminates the night. She raises her eyes for the final time, she said. As still as ice.

Welcome to. The curiosity of a child.

Anton, how are you?

Hello I'm I'm good.

I thought we'd start with the story this time. Something a bit different and. That's actually based on a true account. Is in 1999 the body of a mummified girl was discovered atop of OK night in Argentina. And I've got a picture of her here. Which I have in the show notes.

How lovely.

Yes, it's actually preserved sitting. And she had been sacrificed 500 years earlier to appease the goddesses who brought food and life to the steep Andean slopes. And it is really difficult place to survive because. There's no large areas of land to cultivate, and the soils they can be really poor. But there is one very nutritious plant that grows here.

The potato.

Yeah, that's right. The humble potato. I mean, it feels like such an everyday an ordinary thing and you can't. If you think about the potato, it feels like it's been around forever, doesn't it? But in Europe and Asia at least, we've only really used it for the last four to 500. And here's a great quote from John Reeder, who wrote one of the key books used for my research for this episode. And when asked how did people react when they heard your next book, the propitious esculent was all about potatoes. He replied with.

Potato is the best bundle of nutrition known, but it's not easy to persuade people to take it seriously. As a topic of conversation, it inevitably evokes some degree of mirth or a condescending smirk from those who consider the topic not just amusing, but foolish too. People simply do not believe such a commonplace commodity deserves serious attention.

And neither do we at the end. Of the episode, thanks.

For listening guys. Yeah. Thank you. Support us on Patreon for the No, there will be bonuses on Patreon though.

No, no, actually. He's right. It does deserve more attention than people give it. So if you think about the history of the potato, many people will probably have the Irish potato Famine come to mind. And that's quite well known. So we're going to spend much of this episode actually exploring its earlier history to understand how we reached where we did. So the potato is native to South and Central America. And there are over 150 species in the. World's most of them don't look like the ones you find in the supermarket today, and I got some pictures here which will. Be in our show notes and hopefully in chapters on the podcast. So if your app supports it, there might be pictures going along with this episode, which you can look at. So yeah, the the wild potatoes, they're much smaller than one you'd find in the shops, and they're really oddly shaped and nobly. So and what do you think of these pictures here?

They looked like completely different. Vegetables and different fruits.

Yeah, some look like pine canes and all sorts. That's amazing. Isn't it really nobly and quite interesting patterns and textures there.

Be like grape some of them.

Yeah, very purple and orange and yellow and all sorts. So loads of colours. Can you imagine feeding those? We generally call them a root vegetable, but actually tubers. So a tuber is part of the stem that goes underground into the plant, and if you look at a potato, you'll see they're covered in eyes. So in front of your two bags. But they sound.

Them vegetables.

Yeah. So reach into the.

First one. OK, I don't trust this. Ah, the potato.

Yeah. Can you see the eyes on it? And there's a few little bits growing off it, so I've left it a while. So the eyes are a little light knob Jules in there that all the little holes. So that is where the stem will grow from. Then if you look in the next bag. See what happens if they're left long enough.

Ah, I'm feeling that right.

Yeah. What did that?

Look like it the potato looks like it's had everything sucked out of it, and then there's more roots and stuff going out of it.

Yeah, that was gone a bit shrivelled, but those long routes on that one, it's been left awhile and actually you get some of the cultures, particularly ones that bought potatoes in that were traded with in chilli, they would make pottery that combined the essence of a person and a potato. And there's a picture here of one sets a potato with. A person's head. Not Mr potato.

Head no.

So you can actually take one of those potatoes that you just picked up and you could cut it into pieces. Then each of the eyes you could plant those to. Grow new potato plants from. And that is actually the primary way that we propagate them. So rather than using seeds, we will claim the potatoes, but that can lead to big problems we'll discover later. In a way, yeah. OK. So you do like potatoes?

I do like potatoes. I like chips.

You know? Yeah, I like roast potatoes. That's probably my favourite. But did you know that potatoes are poisonous? Whether they are or these many of the wild ones are.

Potatoes are actually related to tomatoes. Both are members of the deadly Nightshade family.

Yeah. So, do you remember from our Magic episode that Nightshade was used in the witches ointment and was tendered to you by the devil himself? But what makes them so dangerous is their lethal levels of glycoalkaloids.

How dangerous are glycoalkaloids?

Well, you need about 5 milligrammes for every one kilogramme of your body weight. So pretty dangerous. And symptoms associated with the like of alkaloid poisoning from potatoes include a bitter burning sensation in the mouth, flu like symptoms, nausea, vomiting, stomach and abdominal cramps and diarrhoea.

My favourite if you allow your potatoes to flour and fruit, they produce green berries like small unripe tomatoes. The key difference being they might kill you if you eat.

Yeah, I did actually find one article where the author he tasted but spat out the berries at various stages of ripeness, and at first he said they taste a bit like green tomatoes. Then, as they ripened, they became a sort of a bittersweet they went fully ripe, a mix of melon and tomato. Please don't try that yourself.

OK, no potatoes are also related to aubergines. Peppers and tobacco.

So do they contain nicotine?

Yes, but a cigarette contains around 18,000 times more nicotine than the same weight of potato.

Fear. That's good. So we are a non-smoking podcast, but we are prey potato. So how did the potato take over the world and become the fourth most important food crop after maize, wheat and rice?

I don't know.

Well, we're going to find out a little bit. OK, say today it's grained lately in around 150 countries all the way from sea level up to 4000 metres in altitude and from the far north to the Deep South. Now, there may be 79% water, but your basic potato is actually packed full of laser nutrients and carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids and all sorts. They contain laser vitamins including vitamin C, and during the cloud Ike Gold Rush. That was up in Canada. They were sold for their weighting gold due to their ability to help fight scurvy, the vitamin C. They also have complex B vitamins, iron, calcium, potato, potato. Of course they got potato, potassium and and you can actually just live on a diet potato and you've got stroke at that later.

Haven't you? But first you need them to be safe, reducing the level of glycocholic myroides by about 20 times.

Yeah. So we're gonna find out how that was done. So first we need to travel back about 8000 years to the first evidence of potato domestication by the Aymara people in the Lake Titicaca region. And this is on the border of Peru and Bolivia and they may have actually started domesticating further back than this. But it's hard to find evidence now. This is amazingly OK. It's over 3500 metres above sea level up in the Andes mountains. It's really Big Lake. And on that there's artificial floating islands made of weaved UM reeds. That's cool. Yeah, there's a picture there.

That was very cool, quite small.

Yeah, really, really amazing. Now the Amara. They would have spent years and years selectively breeding potatoes to try and find the best ones OK to. Get rid of the toxins.

And back then, you wouldn't have any tools to test the levels of toxins.

Either. Yeah, that's right. So. It's a weird situation because for the potato to become useful you need it toxin free. But to bother growing it. You need to have it toxin free as well. So where do you start on that process? It's a weird one, isn't it? Now, one thing they might have done is mixed clay, which was found in the soil when the region and when you mix it with potatoes, it allows you to eat them safely these experiments. Showing the elements in the clay bind with the glycol alkaloids, allowing them to safely pass through the body. So was this found out by accident? Maybe somebody left a potato out, which perhaps they tried kicking them or something and left it in like a fire pit. And it mixed together, though my tummy doesn't feel so bad. This time, after eating it. Has had a couple of other thoughts that maybe haven't found evidence for these. Perhaps the people there, they had some a stronger Constitution or some natural immunity just through generations of eating the potatoes. Or maybe there's some bacteria in their gut Biome which will help reduce the levels you know. Now, another traditional way to make potato safe for you is to create Chernow. Now do you know? What that? Is we'd like to learn how to. Make it yes, please. So what you do, you get your potatoes and you dig them up and you expose them for several nights. The freezing temperatures up in the andies and then during the day you cover them up so they're not exposed to the hot sun. And then when you've done that for a few evenings, you will soak them in cold running water for a month. And then after you take them out of the water and freeze them for another night and during the day you walk on top of them and this will help to remove the peels and also squash out with the water so. A bit like the potato in that bag. OK, then finally you need them to dry in the sun. For a couple of weeks. That reminds me a little bit of the black pepper. You know, when they keep when the yeah from that episode. Now this freezing and drying process also makes me think of that poor girl that the volcano is that they're almost like momma fried potatoes at that stage.

She was a potato.

She was once this process is a lot of effort and takes several weeks. It will actually remove the toxins from the potato. You can also store this freeze dried potato much longer than you come with fresh potatoes.

We should try this.

Potatoes are still grown in the traditional manner in many parts of pro, and it's really difficult work with only three percent of their land is suitable for grain crops. In Europe, it's about 30% of our land and they train. Their climate is very diverse. Mean you've got arid coastal plains, you've got lost rainforest. And then between the tea, you've got the Andes mountain range. Many, so you can't really imagine a more extreme, varied landscape. And much the population lives above 3000 metres. Juan Ramos. He is a six year old farm and he lives with his wife Sophia at over 3500 metres and some officials from the Centro Internationale de la Papa. Come to visit him. They're like the governing body of potatoes and they want to cheque on his crop and his patch of land is it's just a small rocky area and it's really hard to work. But they've actually planted over 50 varieties of potato.

I say the names of these.

You can say the names, yeah.

And then what they translate into? Is it OK? Kalu cow's tongue. Puca, Peppino, red cucumber. Qui solu. Guinea pig foetus. And Papa ilon choy marcacci or the potato that makes the new bride weep, so named because it's so hard to peel.

Yeah. So much on those really nobly ones. Yeah. And that the potatoes that he has, they're they're amazing colours. Like you saw earlier, they'd be the purples and oranges and all sorts, even the flesh. It looks almost like beetroot. I can't really imagine these for sale on supermarkets over here and there's so many different flavours and things as well. Well, as I said, this is hard work. So when he swings his I had show and that's like a traditional tool, a bit like a pickaxe. And he use it to dig the soil. And it's got, like a leaf. Almost shapes tip on it as well for digging. And it really becomes a full family event with his nephews and cousins all helping. Now. One of them is still she is collecting the dog potatoes into her plastic sheet and she'll sling it over her shoulder in an hour. She'll move over 150 kilogrammes. Of these potatoes just to be stored elsewhere, but over this really steep rocky terrain, I mean, this is difficult work. They're tough people. And to us, this may look really crude. And the traditional methods, they are dying away because when he dreams to have enough money to actually allow him to buy his own potatoes instead of having to harvest them among the rocks. But have you ever heard of the Tiwanaku Empire? No, I've never really heard them either. And they had an amazing practise of farming, so I got some pictures here which I have in the show notes as well. And I'll explain what it is. So they also lived around Lake Titicaca, near where the potatoes were first domesticated, and their influence lasted from around 600 to 1000. The E. And during that time, they constructed these really large regions of what's called raised field agriculture or as they called it, sakoku. And this could be up to 130 square kilometres. So what they do they make these raised beds comprising of layers of rocks and gravel and soil. And they could be about 5 to 20 metres wide and up to 200 metres. Lung, then, surrounding these raised beds would be canals filled with water. So why do you think they?

Did that so that the water could like drain. I see.

Yeah. And they keep the all the soil moist, but even cleverer than that because it gets really cold there at night and hot during the day. The water would cool the land during the day and absorb all the heat. Then at night time it would radiate the heat back out and raise temperatures up to 9 degrees, stopping frost. Forming like really, really clever. So traditional agricultural techniques they might yield maybe 2 1/2 metric tonnes of potatoes per hectare. They're modern farming practises have taken that to about 14 1/2 tonnes. Can you guess how much the Tijuana cat produced 1200 years ago?

124 tonnes.

124 tonnes. Yeah, so a lot more than modern practises. Are you sure with your guests?

100% certain.

OK, well estimates say 21 tonnes per hectare, yes, so still 50% more than modern practises. Now that is a little bit debated this actually how reliable it was. Still incredibly clever technique that also grow quinoa and other brains and things there. And and do you eat potatoes? I do. Do we live in Peru?

We don't.

No, we don't. So how do potatoes reach us? Aeroplane. There were no aeroplanes then.

OK. Costa Rica packet.

That hadn't been built yet. Do you want me to tell you?

Not yet. One more guess.

OK. Swimming, swimming. Potatoes.

No swimming people with potatoes.

No, little little bit far to swim. I'm not sure how those work as buoyancy aids either. They actually came as part of what is called the Columbian Exchange. And do you know?

What that is I do not.

OK. Shall I tell? You. Yes. So it's the exchange of ideas, food crops, people and of course, diseases between the new world and the old World after Columbus's voyage in.


Correct. At least you got something.

Right. Yeah, I was gonna.

Say yeah, and then that we got potatoes, sweet potatoes, which in the historical records are often confused. Make it really hard to research this topic for academics. I always got chilli Peppers, tomatoes and of course my favourite chocolate and many other foods. I think something like 60% of all the foods we eat today or vegetables maybe that has come from the. Americas like globally.

That's quite long.

Not just us, but all over the world and loads of national cuisines are built, stuff that isn't really. Native to them. It's amazing that. So can you think of anything that we might have given them in return?

Ah yeah. Our old friend smallpox.

Yeah, great exchange, wasn't it?

MMM yeah, listen to our intelligence speech conference episode for more about smallpox.

The story of how Europeans began eating potatoes. It's long and mixed and full of untruthful anecdotes, say shall we kill a few lies to begin?

OK, Sir Walter Raleigh did not introduce potatoes to Ireland. No, Sir. Francis Drake did not introduce the potato to Europe. Frederick the Great did not introduce the Tato to Germany. No, they did not give you leprosy. Good people thought they gave you leprosy because of their knobbly bits and stuff and it looked like leprosy. Limbs. Yeah.

And these are not mentioned in the Bible either. So, oh, that must be dangerous. So after the Spanish conquered South America, I mean skipping a bit of history there. They didn't initially have much interest in the potato as something to feed themselves. Instead, they brought over European crops and farming techniques, and they grew really well in. The climate. There, however, they did encourage the cultivation of potatoes and collected taxes in the form of. You know, it's the freeze dried. Potato, yeah. And it was used to feed the workers who are building the roads and the towns, and also the silver miners were fed nearly exclusively on it. So potatoes powered the workforce and this became a common pattern. Not just in South America, but elsewhere, where the potatoes spread. And the silver that was extracted from those mines and taken back to Europe gave Spain the wealth and the power to dominate large portions of Europe for almost a century. But it's very easy to wish. Think of this as one side. It isn't, as the evil Europeans and Spaniards invading, and yeah, we did do that. I think part. Of that's just human nature and history and it's unpleasant. But that's what happens. But. I found a letter here from July 1533 from a boy called Gaspar and it's to his father and the son here joined Francisco Bizarre. So you know that name. Here's the conquistador.

Yes. Ohh yeah, I do actually.

Yeah. So I'm going to just read some portions of the letter here. To my longed forefather dear Sir, most, about three years ago that I got a letter from you in which you asked me to send you some money. God knows how sorry I was not to have sent you anything then because if I had anything, there wouldn't have been any need for you to write. I've always tried to do the right thing, but it wasn't possible till now. God knows. I give you my word that I've never had a penny my whole time since I came to these parts until six months ago when God was pleased to give me more than I deserved, and I now have over 3000 dockets. Sir, I'm sending you 213 pesos of good gold in a bar with an honourable man from San Sebastian. You have it turned into coin. Then bring it to ye. I send you more. Except he's taking more money for other people too, and couldn't take more. His name is Pedro. Sir, I'd like to be the messenger myself, but it couldn't be because we're in a new country and we haven't been here long and we aren't given the licence to leave except the married men have been in these parts for a long time. I expect to be there with you in two years with the aid of. Lord, I swear to God that I have a greater desire to be there than you have to see me so I can give you a good old age. Give my greetings to Catalina and my brothers and my sisters and my uncle and his daughters, especially the older one, as I am much in her debt, Sir. The only thing I want to ask is that you do good for the souls of my mother and all my relatives. And if God lets me get there, I'll do it very thoroughly myself. There's nothing more to write presently, except I'm praying for our Lord Jesus Christ. To let me see you before I die. Your son, he'd rather see you than write to you Gaspar de Garratt. So that's. Choose that a lot of the people over there must have been so weird against this other country. I mean, there's some sort of desperation in his letters. He knows he's not going to go home and he's it's not like today where you would have seen that place on TV before. Doesn't thing. It's a strange, mysterious land, and because he's not married, he can't go home. But he would actually be killed in November that year, before his dad had even received the letter. But there's no mention of potatoes. Are there no. But those who were returning to Spain, he mentions like the married men could return to Spain. They probably would have taken them with them. And the first European description of the potato comes from 1601, and it recounts the Spanish entering the high valleys of the Andes. In 1537, and watching the local people cultivating potato. Juan de Castellanas wrote.

The houses were all stocked with maize, beans and truffles, spherical roots, which are sewn and produced a stem with its branches and leaves and some flowers. Although few of a soft purple colour and the roots of the same plant, which is about 3 palms high, they are attached underneath the earth. And the size of an egg more or less some round and some elongated. They are white and purple and. Yellow, flowery roots of good flavour, a delicacy to the Indians and a dainty dish even for the Spaniards.

So it sounds potato like to. Me and then potatoes, they started to trick into Europe via the Spanish, and it may also be that some of the early records of the discoveries that the Spanish found were hidden from the other European rivals make it even harder to unearth this. And it's pretty much impossible to know who the first person was, and it's probably numerous people. There's also confusion in the records between potatoes and sweet potatoes and other vegetables coming back at the.

Time we do have some evidence, though. The hospital de la Sangli in Seville has has purchased. Records dating back to 1546 and on 27th of December 1573, they bought potatoes for the first time. Right. At first they didn't buy many, but orders increased over time as they became cheaper due to increased local cultivation.

Yeah, it's the dates on the records when they bought them, so that they must have been grown locally, actually in Spain not brought back. So definitely down there. This is also around the same time that the there's the Dutch revolt where they saw independence from the Spanish. So there's a map here if you aren't familiar with. The Spanish Empire at the time. So they're covering, obviously Spain and Portugal, much of the Netherland, Netherlands, little bit of Germany and France and Italy and all sorts, aren't they? So the March from Spain to the low countries is a pretty long one. And as you know, a a army marches on its stomach, doesn't it? Mm-hmm. So the supply line, it ran from Spain through northern Italy, southwestern Germany, southeastern France, all the way to Belgium. And the Spanish armies brought with them potatoes and farmers along the route, auto group potatoes. And they sold them to the military formations and supply trains. So there may have already been some potatoes spreading out in that region already, not just the ones at the soldiers were taking up there. The peasants were probably grown them for their own consumption rather than for commercial sale. And in 1588, there's a Belgium gentleman and he was giving a tour of his Botanical Garden to a visitor showing off all his amazing rare plants that he collected. And then the visitor commented like why you grain potatoes. I mean, they're widely drained back down in Italy. So it shows that OK in Italy and Spain.

He had spread. Yeah. Again, where he was it hadn't.

What are you planning? By 1715, all along the route that the Spanish army had taken, potatoes have been grown as fill crops and the spread is not solely down to military manoeuvres and things. But there's also records of Dutch traders selling them at the ports like Amsterdam. As was it clear that the Hapsburgs influence over much of Europe certainly would have helped, is they going to? Spread around their territories like on the map. OK. Although further afield, 100 years earlier, there's a muggle statesman, a Asaf Khan, and he served a potatoes excellently, well dressed at a banquet in Rajasthan. But we don't. Know how it got there? Any ideas?

I'm not.

Sure. Do you know where Roger Stan is? India, yes. And the border of India and Pakistan. So potatoes had just got all the way there. There were Portuguese and Dutch traders who, as they sailed around to the cases, they would be dropping off at different trading ports and railing stations and things that could be.

So what about new potatoes? Like, are those younger potatoes? Are those poisonous?

They're OK, don't worry about those. They're they've been thoroughly tested. OK, yeah. Fear not, some potatoes have been dangerous, but not for the normal reasons in 1770. There was the War of Bavarian succession and this became known as the Potato War, and there are several reasons for this, and maybe because it took place during a potato harvest and the soldiers survived by the potatoes, and I think they were camped on each side of a river and they didn't really get to each other. And there were potato fields there. So they just dug them up and ate them. But it's also another reason why the peasantry, like potatoes, is because. If you had an army marching through somewhere and there's corn or wheat or something, you can top it down. It's really visible, isn't it? If you're hungry, well, potatoes are hidden underground. Yeah, which led to some distrust for a while by the potatoes. It's hidden away, but it also meant that for peasants they could hide their.

Feedstocks. I've got a couple of fairies. Well, actually, one, I'll just say that. I thought if they're the other side of the rivers, maybe they'll throw potatoes at each other. And two, if you said they weren't mentioned in the Bible because they weren't over, maybe people would think if they're following the Bible, that if the crops are growing, like mainly underground, they'll think they're growing from hell.

Oh yeah, I thought that that's a good idea. Actually, you replaced as well with the three potatoes that each other is there is a a theory that they would fire potatoes at each other, sort of using cannonballs.

That's even better.

And I believe you also have another good story about how the potato, how the potatoes began eating. The French French fries, how the French began eating potato.

Yes. Yeah. Antoine Parmentier was a French pharmacist who was taken prisoner by the Prussians during the seven-year War between France and Prussia. He was kept as a prisoner for three years and fared nearly entirely on potatoes. This must have been scary for him as back home in France they were feared and not eaten as we. He said when he was released in 1763, he returned to France, surprised at how healthy he had remained and his curiosity led him to study what is in the food that makes us healthy, he wrote.

A thing which will always appear astonishing is that we have lived centuries without having the curiosity to seek out the nature of the substance that nourishes us.

His aims were to reduce the calamities of famine, and he chose the potato with which to do this. And he had several cunning plans to convince the peasants, nobles, and the king. On Louis the 16th birthday, Parmentier presented him and Marie Antoinette with a bouquet of potato flowers, which the king pinned to his lapel and Marie wore in her hair. All the Lords and ladies of the court were present as Parmentier served a banquet full of potatoes. Now they had royal approval. It was fashionable to be seen with potatoes. But he still needed to convince the general population, and this was parmentier's next genius. Plan he ordered 40 acres on the outskirts of Paris to be planted with potatoes and heavily guarded to make it seem like they were very important. But at night there would be no guards. Curious peasants soon began investigating and stealing the potatoes. If they're good enough for the king, they're good enough for us. Soon potato eating became common in Paris, but rapidly spread throughout France. When the revolution struck France, not long later, Louis told Parmentier France will thank you someday for having found bread for the poor. Her mentor was a hero and not one of the many executed. The fact Napoleon awarded him one of the 1st Legion.

Yeah. Yeah. It's interesting though. Actually comments, yeah. And one of the other things he had to battle was the church and their belief in the dangers of potatoes. But that did change, and there was actually pamphlets sent to all the churches with fact sheets and the advantages of potatoes for priests to read from the pulpit. The potato had also reached England and Ireland and become established as a personal crop grown in vegetable gardens long before as a field crop like elsewhere in Europe. And it's thought that potatoes may be reached items with Basque fishermen had sailed up there and they had them aboard on their ship. Maybe because they're high levels of vitamin C. And when a Cornish rector demanded that his tenant started paying a teeth on their potatoes, they refusing that they've been cultivating them for time out of mind and never paid before. Now teeth, it's a 10% tax and profits that's given to the church. And then given that the the relative demand of this, it suggests that maybe the growing of potatoes was starting to become more widespread. As you're only going to attach the commercial goods, So what effect were? All these, probably millions of potatoes being grown in Europe having.

Less people are getting scurvy.

Yeah, more people being fed. Yeah, because today we're really lucky. It's generally we've got enough to eat gateway and it's really easy to think that there's always been the case. But France actually suffered 89 major famines between the 10th and 18th century. And then from 1560 to 1680, there are over 5000 French women convicted of infanticide. So that's killing babies, yeah. Really unpleasant and a contemporary report rates that the rivers resound with the cries of children have been plunged into them.

That's lovely. What? What's this got to do with potato?

Yeah. Horrible. Starvation through Europe, then, the records show a big skew in the number of boys to girls, as boys could do the hard labour and the fields. So the girls were sacrificed, much like that. Poor one on the volcano. So the existing food sources were not enough to sustain. The population of. Europe and war and failed to harvest. Quickly took their toll.

But as potatoes spread, so did health and the growth of population. A hectare of wheat produces enough protein to feed seven people annually, whilst potatoes have enough to feed 17 people. Not only that, they also produce three times more calories. From 1750 to 1850, euro's population grew from 140 million to 266 million. In islands, it really booms. They had their densest rural population anywhere in Europe.

This meant that families could parcel what their land into ever smaller plots and to give their children enough land to still grow of thing they need. To eat. And in Ireland, the conditions they were dreadful and British rule didn't really do anything to improve it because they were literally surviving only on potatoes mashed with some milk, maybe a little bit of butter. And a lot of the. I wish they were sleeping on the floor of their houses and dump cold conditions, but despite all that, officials still commented on how strong and healthy they were compared to many English labourers. That's thanks to the potato. And there are some arguments that be made that this increase in health and strength and efficiency in population. Actually helped power the Industrial Revolution and European exploration throughout the world is larger, healthier populations with more free time to work in factories, et cetera, or go off and conquer the world so that. Is the difference that potatoes made in Europe?

Yeah, they're not not a laughing matter like most people think they are.

So potatoes, do you think they're wonder food? I mean, what possibly could go?

Wrong. Isn't that pretty good? They don't cause leprosy. They. They're any toxic sometimes, yeah.

Yeah, minimal danger there. Yeah, but nearly all the potatoes that we grow actually just come from a few wild species, and we don't grow them from seed as cross pollination means that you won't know exactly what type of potato you get. So what do we do instead?

We use the. Same potatoes eyes. Yeah. That they sprout from.

Yeah. So they're all clones, aren't they? And So what sort of problems can that cause?

If one if they're not like correct. And they are toxic.

I also make them vulnerable to disease.

That's what I said earlier. And he only said yeah, kinda. So I wasn't. Didn't think it was.

That yes, I mean you mentioned the potato famine. Many people will immediately think of Ireland, but it's actually a much larger. Problem than that way back in the summer of 1842, farmers in Philadelphia notice that their potato plants were starting to wilt, and when they got the soil, they the potatoes were just a black slimy mesh. And it quickly spread over much of North America, devastating harvest. But it wasn't a primary food crop there, so they could fall back on. Their food and wheat and things. And by June 1844, this blight had crossed the Atlantic and it appeared in Belgium and 88% of their crop was. In the Netherlands, 71% and it spread to Germany, France and Russia, and hundreds of thousands people died. But there weren't rains and things to.

Fall back on, especially in Russia as well. They can't make their potato vodka.

But they're going to do. And then the 1st of August 1845 actually spread to us here in the Channel Islands. And then also soon on to England and Ireland. Now this is the island of the densest rural population in Europe, islands with the biggest dependency on potatoes. They've actually been exporting their potato crop to mainland Europe to help feed people who are suffering from the blight. And I'm not going to go into details here. There's so many good books and podcasts and things on the subject. But it was, uh, awful, awful time. I mean, millions of people starved or emigrated from Ireland. Because there was number food to eat. So just as the potato had given life to save money, potato blight took it away just as easily. And we need is obviously a way to fight this flight we. But before we can do that, we could understand what's. Causing it don't. We and today we know because it's actually a fungus that gets into the the leaves, it goes through these tomato, you know, little breathing holes and the cells. That keeps breathing. And then they send the little tendrils there. Little white wiggly fingers, and those will go and SAP. Our nutrients directly from the cells inside the leaf and kill the plants.

That's not good.

But for years, there are arguments about exactly what's causing it, because the prevalent theory was that it was just particularly damp weather that of course, the potatoes were on the ground and it actually be nearly 40 years before a chap called Benedict Prevo, a professor at Montalban, started to understand what was happening. And he took spores of the fungus, and he put them in little dishes with a small piece of copper. And he noticed that that was killing the sport. And surprised that it took so long for this to happen, because Cup had long been used as a way to help treat fungal infections in wheat and other crops. So she's like from my elements episode just how important it is to understand. Well, everything really, isn't it? You know when you need.

That knowledge, how to understand everything? Yeah, that's important.

And soon he would start doing larger trials, he says. Already, the practise of using something called a Bordeaux mix, which is made of lime, water, copper sulphate and the vineyards of France. And he found that this solution worked well on the potato crops as well. But sadly, we might have discovered this much earlier. He says a letter from the 4th of September 1846 from a Welsh gentleman called Matthew Muggeridge, and he wrote to the Gardeners Chronicle.

On the 31st of August, I examined many pieces of potatoes within the immediate influence of the copper smoke from the smelting works in his in this neighbourhood good accent is it. There is no occasion, perhaps to note the individual cases, but the general result is that the leaves home and tubers improve as you approach the works, and at the nearest gardens little more than 200 yards from them are entirely free of the blight and the crop. Good and quality, quantity and flavour. The potatoes are often of different sorts. The last named gardens, as I am informed by the proprietor, entirely escaped the disease in 1845 and have borne potatoes for 40 years.

Yes, that was a letter that was written of somebody who had spotted that the copper. Was able to stop the light, but people just did not pick. Up on it. So frustrating. It's like. How many? 100,000 of 1,000,000 died?

Yes, easy to fix. That's not just frustrating. That's that's that's quite sad. Ohh no, that's our podcast. Turn to.

Yeah, not essentially.

No offence to anybody, OK. There we. Go fixed it.

Yeah. Today, Potato plight is still a problem, and we still battle with it. And obviously an over reliance and chemicals to treat it can have serious like side effects on the environment to and try and minimise that. But the potatoes we're chain is too portent of an Acrobat to simply ignore it and let it. Die, isn't it? Its nutritional value outstrips that of basically any other. Crop for the amount of land, water and CO2 used in its growth. It spread rapidly through Europe after its first arrival and then the rest of the world. And since the 1960s it's actually been the fastest spreading major food crop. And of course, one place where it's grown is our sister Island Jersey. They're not that bad. It's her name for their jersey royal potatoes. And I've got a 1985 book here, which is called the history of the potato. And it talks about the potato growing and the channels and how they are shipped to up to London.

Are tomatoes, that's.

Fine. We do have our tomatoes, yes. And it said that in 1867 there are 22,623 tonnes exported from Jersey, a lane with a value of £215,000. It's in like 1876 money as well, so that's a lot. Yeah, a lot of money there. And there's still a similar quantity of potatoes exported from Jersey to this day. But the real big player in potatoes is not jersey. Now it is China. It's in China. There's been a real concerted effort to encourage the growth and consumption of potatoes. And actually now the world's largest producer, making over 20% of the annual labour crop.

That's a lot.

And there's even a Chinese promotional song and adverts, which play on this similarity for the Chinese words for the nouveau rich and wealthy, which are two how, and rotate which is 2 DAU. And there's a 51 year old potato farmer and entrepreneur named Fen XI ayam. She's from the northern potato growing region of Shanxi and uh. Yeah, she's been singing songs praising potatoes. Do you? Want to hear one please? So this song is called. Potato. Potato. Potato.

Not your.

You have to leave it billed for mine, OK? I don't think this is her singing. At the moment.

When he's trying to take the lyrics, get ready.

They cry.

Come on.

Let's skip in a bit.

There's this thing now I think.

Ya ya.

Had enough? Yeah.

That was incredible.

That was, yeah, beautiful song runs a little. Bit of South Park.

I've never heard of that.

Yeah. China, like potatoes, are big there. They're trying to get them. To eat more.

We mentioned this earlier, the Centro Internationale de la Papa, which is headquartered in Lima, Peru, and that translates to International Potato Centre. And that leads to the development of new potatoes, which are more resistant to blight or drought or any other problems, through DNA research and direct hands on work, they have achieved some success in China, new disease resistant varieties increased returns 106% with poor. Households receiving 71% of the benefit.

Very good.

In Tunisia, new methods for controlling potato moths led to a 64% return over 25 years, and in Vietnam, late blight resistant varieties gave an 81% return over 15 years.

Yeah, they're doing really good work there. To try and keep us safe so we don't have another situation like the horrible potato famines of the mid 1800s.

They're really frustrating. I'm so bad. I hope we don't get cancelled.

I wasn't frustrated at what happened to the people. I was frustrated that people not picking up on. That letter.

That's true if we if there were podcasts like. This around at that time we we would have saved the world.

Yeah, we have to take our time machine back and present this.

Yeah, we need to get out the closet, though.


Me too. That's it? Yeah, it's not the TARDIS.

OK, I think those potato must probably look like a hawk moth, so I like them. Anyway, UM, today we have so many potatoes, don't we, that they can even be used for toys. So I've got the first Mr Potato Head advert for you here. Television advert prepared to be scared.

Ohh yeah yeah. Oh no.

Any $2.00?

That's not bad. I have to say the potatoes actually look like potatoes. I don't know if it's real potato, if it's clay.

They are. They're real potatoes, actually, I find them quite scary, actually. Like the that pottery that we had at. The start, aren't they?

Ohh yeah yeah. Sort of.

To push it into a real potato, you need to have quite a sharp pin on the back, so kids would just be poking themselves with these sharp metal pins.

We we need to do dangerous toys 2.0 going back the cabbage patch kids.

You do? Yeah, yes. Potato patch kids. Ohh yeah and something. OK, that's yeah. Painted anyway so.

Copyright, copyright copyright.

The potato is pretty important, yeah. Whether their chipped must boiled, baked or released it, the potatoes in your plate deserve some love as paste. Brexit passes proclaimed potatoes are immigrants. They've travelled the world, but they have been accepted by the people everywhere due to their versatility and incredible nutritional value. And if you've seen or read the Martian, you know that one day they may even be feeding us in space as well. Potatoes may seem boring, but they're far from that. These once poisonous tubers. Were one of the foundations of the modern world powering people, nations, revolutions and conquest. But their story also warns us of our vulnerabilities, our dependency on brittle systems or singular sources of security. They warn us of the devastation of famine and the importance of spending on scientific research and safeguards. They tell stories of the rich exploiting the poor. With cheap food and labour as patcher Mamma, the ink and Earth mother and her daughters axe and Mama, the potato goddess and Mamma killer, the moon goddess warned us we must not take too much without making sure that we give something back.

And on that note, we're gonna give you something back for listening to this a a recipe.

Yes, we can't leave without giving you a nice potato recipe. And there's one for potato pie here from 1676 from I think there's a book called True Gentlemen's Delight. Now, I tried looking that up. And I couldn't find. Couldn't find anything. Nothing bad came up there do. Not worry, OK?

Oh, a potato pie for supper. Take £3.00 of boiled and blanked, blanched. Blanched potatoes and three nutmegs. Go listen to nutmeg episode and half an ounce of cinnamon beaten together and three ounces of sugar. Season your potatoes and put them in your pie. Then take the marrow of the three bones rolled and yolks of eggs and slice lemon and large Mace and a half pound of butter, 6 eighths quartered. Put in put this into your pie and let it stand an hour in the oven. Then make a sharp cordial of butter. Sugar, fur, juice and white wine put it in. When you take your pie out of the oven.

Well, it sounds delicious, doesn't it? I mean, cookies changed.

I think we'll find some more recipes for the Patreon episode.

Yeah, little bonus. So the plan is we can do a patron episode with a bit more potato facts. It's gonna be the liars, scoundrels and spies of the potatoes. So we've got a story about a man faking a herbal reference to potatoes, a man selling dodgy potatoes, the British Empire potato collecting expedition to South America. Now with a name like that, you'd think. 1800s maybe? Hmm, now it happened in 1938. The episode will include Russian friends and savient spies. All sorts, so you can listen to that if you sign up to our Patreon.

Uh-huh. I think there'll be some rewards on the one pound and then everything will be on the £5, definitely on the five pounds, yeah.

That's right. So yeah, next time you have potatoes, give them a little bit more appreciation a bit. More love, I think. Yeah, could do the same for the podcast too, by leaving a review or. Following us on Twitter at. Kirija putt.

Or Instagram at.

Cure each our part to search for the Cure Teacher podcast.

Our website.

Recursive orchard com.

Our merchandise.

Store shop dot the curiosity of a. Child.com.

Uh, my YouTube channel.

The curiosity of gaming on YouTube.

Is there anything else?

Or you could e-mail us hello at security of the. Child.com.

Sign up for our Patreon.

Sign up for our Patreon. Just search for the curiosity of a child Patreon. Yeah. And you are bound to find us. We've also hopefully got an exciting interview lined up soon. Nothing to do with potatoes, say something very different, but we keep that secret for now.

I I am very sad. No one's given us a review. For ages.

No, no. We put our heart and soul into this. Even though our release schedule has become really bad recently, which is why we're a little bit rusty and took. A while to get going in this episode, didn't we? Yeah. But I think I think you did OK, Anton.

You didn't. You were awful. I'm joking. I'm joking.

OK, I'll cut myself up when I had an. Assistant to you speaking.

OK, just responding to a non existent voice.

Uh-huh. So thank you very much for listening and uh, hopefully we will be back again soon with another episode on exciting topics such as.

You let us know at hello. I'm curious.

Ohh yeah, good idea.

Whatever it is, I don't know anymore.

Right. We're gonna go to bed now and sleep. Goodnight.

Well, that was frustrating.