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Health, Sports & Psychology

Ever Wondered About... Potatoes?

Updated Wednesday, 27th April 2005

The fascinating world of potatoes

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Cut potatoes go brown in the air because they contain an enzyme (called polyphenol oxidase or tyrosinase) that reacts with oxygen and iron-containing phenols that are also found in the potato. The oxidation reaction basically forms a sort of rust on the surface. You see the browning when the potato is cut because this damages the cells, releasing the enzyme. The reaction can be slowed or prevented by inactivating the enzyme with heat (cooking), reducing the pH on the surface of the potato (by adding lemon juice or another acid), or reducing the amount of available oxygen (by putting the potatoes under water). Using cutlery that has some corrosion on it can increase the rate and amount of browning by making more iron salts available for the reaction.

Marie Antoinette wife of Louis XV was known to wear potato blossoms as a hair decoration.

There are 1000’s of different varieties of potato including ones with red flesh (Highland Red) and ones with blue skin (salad blue). There is even a red white and blue heritage potato, Yetholm Gypsy.

“New potatoes” is a term most frequently used to describe those freshly harvested and marketed during the late winter or early spring. The name is also widely used in later crop producing areas to designate freshly dug potatoes which are not quite fully matured. These potatoes are best used for boiling or creaming. They vary widely in size and shape, depending upon variety, but are likely to be affected by 'skinning' or 'feathering' of the outer layer of skin. This skinning usually affects only their appearance.

The potato plant was the first plant to sample life at zero gravity when it was grown aboard space shuttle Columbia in 1995.

USA’s Vice President Dan Quayle had a moment of embarrassment in 1992, when, on a visit to a school, a 12 year old spelt the word “potato” on a blackboard. The Vice President told him that he had spelt it incorrectly and that it should have an “e” at the end.

To make a potato find its way through a maze, put some partitions in a shoe box, with a 2 cm hole in each partition, (making sure they don’t line up), and then a 2 cm hole in the far end of the box. Put a sprouting potato in one end and place the lid on the box. The sprout will grow towards the light at the end of the shoe box, weaving its way through the holes to the far end!

It is thought that mayonnaise was developed in France in the 18th century by a French chef in the town of Mahon. Its early name was Mahonnaise.

The science behind the making of mayonnaise is quite interesting – The first step in making mayonnaise involves mixing egg yolks with a little vinegar and seasoning, then adding oil slowly, beating all the time. The idea is that the egg yolk coats the tiny droplets of oil and prevents them coming together to form a separate layer. This is called an emulsion. An emulsion has formed once the mixture becomes thick. The oil can then be added slightly more quickly.

The potato, which originated in Peru, reached North America after a circuitous journey. The Spaniards first took it back to Spain in the 16th century. From there it made its way to Italy and northern Europe, then to Bermuda and on to the Virginia colonies of North America.

During the Alaskan Klondike gold rush, (1897-1898) potatoes were practically worth their weight in gold. Potatoes were so valued for their vitamin C content that miners traded gold for potatoes.

You can use potatoes to make paintings. Start by cutting a large potato in half. You will need a shaped biscuit or cookie cutter that will fit on the potato half. Press the biscuit cutter into the flat side of the potato. Then, using a knife, cut the potato around the outside of the cookie cutter, leaving a shaped potato stamp. You can use different shaped potato stamps, different coloured paints, and paper. Dip the potatoes in the paint and press them firmly onto the paper. If the potatoes are not cut evenly you may get a few strange results!

Antoine-Auguste Parmentier was an 18th century agronomist who convinced the common French people to accept the potato as a safe food. He used reverse psychology by posting guards around potato fields during the day to prevent people from stealing them. He left the fields unguarded at night. So, every night, the thieves would sneak into the fields and leave with sacks of these precious potatoes!

Instant mashed potatoes (dehydrated potatoes) were introduced commercially in 1955. Just add milk!

Freezing and dehydrating potatoes is not as recent an invention as people think. The early Incas, 2,000 years ago turned potatoes into a form of convenience food called chuno by a process of natural freezing and drying. They also dehydrated potatoes by drying them in the sun.

The British tuck into an enormous 38,000 tons of chips every week.

Before the Irish Potato famine of 1845 – 50 the Irish people were eating an average of 10 potatoes per person per day. This accounted for 80 per cent of their diet. In addition, potatoes were fodder for their livestock which provided milk, meat and eggs. This total dependence was a disaster when the famine struck. Over a million people died and at least a further two million people left Ireland in search of new lives.





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