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Friday, May 18, 2007

The Secret History of the Potato

Papas AndinasWhen you eat your humble spud for dinner, do remember that it was introduced into Europe via the Canary Islands in the mid-16th century. What has been in question, though, was whether it originally came from the Andean or Chilean varieties.

My neighbour, Gregorio, proudly announced, when he brought these round that they are papas andinas, which is to say they are Andean potatoes. He grows them here in Las Portelas in the El Palmar valley in Tenerife, but, he explained, they were sown with seeds that had originally come from the Andes region.

However, "Most scientists have long assumed that European potatoes, the foundation for all modern cultivated potatoes, come from the Chilean variety, because Chilean lowlands resemble Europe's environment most closely."

"But between the Americas and Europe, in potato history, lie the Canary Islands, off northwest Africa. Shipping records from 1567 make these islands the first known home to potatoes outside of Central and South America. And some researchers say the potatoes there resemble the Andean variety but have never had genetic proof."

Solving the long-disputed controversy over the origin of the European potato, it turns out it's both Andean and Chilean origin. "Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of La Laguna in the Canary Islands and the International Potato Center in Lima, Peru, used genetic markers to solve the mystery." Further, the report says that "Scientists believe the landraces of those early potatoes still grow there."

Local growers, it seems, would already consider that as fact.

Potato foundation story

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