Some say Puh-tay-to, some say Po-tah-to- …

Today’s post is about a most mundane subject- the humble potato.

For those readers who expect a serious post on a topic of significance- now might be a good time to stop reading!

The just concluded year 2008, had been declared the International Year of the Potato by The United Nations.

The United Nations website says “The potato is already an integral part of the global food system. It is the world’s number one non-grain food commodity, with production reaching a record 325 million tonnes in 2007.”

India is the third largest producer of this crop, after China and Russia. So we can imagine how important the potato is for us. Not only for us, but for many countries, the potato is of great importance.

Bangladesh is telling its people to eat potatoes. “Wheat costs 44 taka for 1kg, up 150%. By contrast, 1kg of potatoes sells at 13 taka in Dhaka, and far less in the countryside.” 

Think potato, grow potato and eat potato!” This was the main slogan of a three-day potato festival in Dhaka last year.

When Condoleeza Rice made her (in) famous statement last year that the diets of the people in China and India were improving and they consumed more food grain, Indians were outraged.

 It seems that our increased appetites were causing a world food crisis! The diversion of grains to manufacture bio fuels in the U.S. was not a factor.

Though India reacted to her charge, I am surprised that no one thought to tell her that the world could eat potatoes instead!

Mumbai, and much of the rest of India, too, certainly values the potato.

The highly popular snack- Wada-Pav has the potato as its main ingredient. Wada-Pav was in the news two months ago when the Shiv Sena re-named it as Shiv-wada-Pav.

“The branded vada-pav was launched at a function – ‘Vada-pav Sammelan’ (vada-pav conference) in Mumbai.”

“The function featured a competition among 27 professional vada-pav makers from Mumbai, Thane and Baramati that could be used as the standard for the branded vada-pav to be launched at 100 outlets January 23 next year, said Maharashtra Vada-Pav Vikreta Sena (MVVS) president Sanjay Gurav.”

The potato is widely used in preparations to be eaten duringupavas‘.

This practice is surprising because the potato or even the sweet potato, for that matter, cannot have been part of our tradition. The potato is not native to India.

The origin of the potato is most probably in the area of Southern Peru, in South America 

“However, although Peru is essentially the birthplace of the potato, today over 99% of all cultivated potatoes worldwide are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to south-central Chile.”

“The potato was introduced to Europe in 1536, and subsequently by European mariners to territories and ports throughout the world.”

Genetically modified foods are increasingly being developed. GM potatoes are also being similarly developed. The Shimla-based Central Potato Research Institute (CPRI) has developed GM potato varieties. The research on these varieties is in the advanced stage and limited field trials will be started.

However all is not smooth sailing for those trying to introduce GM varieties, because Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss is opposing the use of GM technology.

“What is worrying activists and farmers is the hurry with which the Government seems to be embracing GM technology, when around 180 countries in the world do not allow it.”

So it seems the potato, though certainly lowly, is not without some importance in today’s world. 

It had some value in earlier times, too, it seems. History records that Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XV, King of France, was known to wear potato blossoms as a hair decoration!

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22 thoughts on “Some say Puh-tay-to, some say Po-tah-to- …”

  1. Now thats an article that contains more information than the nutrients present in the humble potato.It seems most of us have shifted to eating smaller variety of natural foods. The top cultivated foods today like rice, wheat, potato etc constitute about 80% of all cultivated foods. Just 80 years ago their percentage was less than 50%. This is not so good for our body either. Eating the same kinds of foods all the time leads to increased cholesterol, blood sugar and other common problems today.

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  2. Well I love my aloo-parantha with dahi, pudina chutney and pickle. The humble potato is indeed a fav one with me! ;-)Interesting post with lots of info. Hey wada pav has a prefix now!! :-))))YOu know tapioca, like potato, is also not native to India but it is the common man’s food in Kerala. Tapioca with fish curry. Hmmm makes me wonder why they are not being banished as ‘Western’!! :-))))

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  3. L.V.S.- It seems that our ancestors were wiser than we are. A typical Indian meal used to have many varieties of food.Vinodji- The Shiv Sena is everywhere, it seems, like the Scarlet Pimpernel!

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  4. Shail- Tapioca means Sabudana, doesn’t it? If that is also not native to India, then I wonder what people used to eat on Upavas days…It is highly likely that there will be a ‘Ban’ on this in the near future! 🙂

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  5. Tapioca is a tuber eaten boiled and also cooked with cocnut and spices. They are bigger in size than sweet potato and have a drak brown and thick skin which is peeled off and the tapioca cut into pieces the size of before cooking.I am not sure whether sabudana is made from that, Manju.

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  6. Love love this Potato talk. I love my Potatoes too in everything in every form. Yeah! am not a healthy eater :))Potato isn’t a popular veggie in Kerala because I guess Tapioca took its place. Bring more Carbohydrates!I spilled my Coffee reading first comment “Now thats an article that contains more information than the nutrients present in the humble potato.”

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  7. Shail- I googled Tapioca, and Wikipedia says Sabudana is a form of Tapioca- Pearl Tapioca.Solilo- Unfortunately I like potatoes, too. I am trying to cut down on them, though. 🙂

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  8. haha……btw, i dint know shiv sena entered this one also…who the hell are they?? why do they make so much place in news? r they in power?i shud say here…that in the west, esp europe…if u r a veggie all they think u eat is potatoes, boiled, unpeeled, peeled, baked, jacket, fries, crisps, cut into halves , buttered….and this is all they think of vegetarian!!if they r little bit kind, may b boiled brocolli and cauliflower cheese or boiled spinach!!well, I used 2 think why they dont like veg stuff…ofcourse, if u just boil and give leaves 2 eat who can like eating it?

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  9. the reason america is fat is because the food is wrong – it is all GM modified.. now many are becoming conscious of eating seasonal food (though not yet main stream) and grown organically – just like our rural farmers would do.shail, there is tapioca in the US -dominican republics and the caribeans do eat them – boiled of course.manju, yes sabudana is made from tapioca and just like the kheer that we make there is tapioca pudding too and they add egg yolks for “richness”. without the egg yolks there is no fun.potato is most tasty in vada pav ! i like it roasted too – When oil touches the humble potato it burgeons with fatty calories – french calories is the worst way to consume potatolet posts such as these keep coming. we will talk about the serious issues while eating vada pav and peanut garlic chutney :)anrosh.

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  10. Anrosh- Yes, let us “talk about the serious issues while eating vada pav and peanut garlic chutney” In any case, I get tired of debating for debating’s sake. I like to debate those topics I feel strongly about! I think vada-pav can be included, too.:)

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  11. http://fanaticcook.blogspot.com/ – since you talked about GMO potato -you may be interested in the above link. though much of is US focussed – this is a good link regarding the issues facing american food industry – which india has jumped into since the early 1990’s ( i think – not sure )with the increase of exports, but seldom talks about may be.. and our rural farmers do not have the money to make gMO potatoes but the rich farmers do have…let me know what you think.

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  12. I haven’t eaten vada pav in over a decade or two, actually. I love potatoes fried in butter. Who eats potatoes for anything other than greed, I want to know? Must be the Tuber-cull-osis Party of India!Nutrients, someone said: what the spud is that!?

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  13. Rambodoc- “Must be the Tuber-cull-osis Party of India!Nutrients, someone said: what the spud is that!?”Ha, Ha! Good one!Biju Mathews- Welcome! And thank you!

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