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The Global Spread of Production

The potatoes are commonly called to be a cool season crop. They are well-suited to high temperature with the supply of water that is quite uniform, and can grow on many various types of soils. The time for planting depends on the region, its climatic conditions, and on the intended market use. Therefore, potato production can be effective in many areas (for example, it grows in all European countries, mainly France, Germany, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Israel, Portugal, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Romania, Russia, Spain, Cyprus, Turkey). Other countries of origin include Egypt and Morocco in Africa, China, Pakistan and India in Asia, Cuba and the USA in America, and Australia (Potatoes, n.d.).

The geographical potato distribution in the countries of Europe depends on four main factors (Potatoes for Human Consumption, 2010):

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-  Trend towards the accumulation of the potato supple in a so-called EU-5 (European Union) Member States: France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and Great Britain. For many years, Poland has been the first producer of potato, however, nowadays, its production is rapidly declining, whereas the EU-5 countries’ production is increasing;

-  Potatoes that are ready to be gathered before the start of the main crop (so-called “earlies”) are brought on the market in late May and up to August, and are cultivated mostly in Central, Eastern and Northern Europe. Though these countries are stronger in the sales of main crop potatoes;

-  Because of the disruption of the used-to-be central planning economy, the structural change has occurred in the potato production of many newcomers to the European Union. The process of modernization of the market economic relationships brings certain development, however, the sector re-organization is still not over;

-  The part of the Europe near the Mediterranean Sea is better specialized in the early potato production which is marketed in the first half of the calendar year.

The main countries-importers of the potato can be called Bangladesh, UAE, Malaysia, Nepal, and Sri Lanka that mainly export this vegetable from India. Nonetheless the fact, that Russia, originally, was one of the leading potato exporters, nowadays, there is a tendency that shows the growing increase in import into Russia. The potato import is strictly controlled and many countries that grow it in large amounts cannot make profits on it only because of some phytosanitary complications or other issues. For example, to export potato to Finland, the exporter has to be registered with the health register of Evira’s plant. About the same can be said about export: Strict rules of certain countries make it difficult to export potatoes (Potatoes for Human Consumption, 2010).

What concerns potato storage, then this vegetable belongs to that type which is very easy to store. Owing to the very long storage life, potatoes can be preserved for many months in the right hands. The first sign of improper potato storage will be the possible growing of the vegetables or their decay. To keep potatoes good for a long time, skillful gardeners usually apply next steps: keep potatoes comparatively clean in dark, cool, and dry places with proper temperature of 2-4 degrees Celsius on the bed of newspapers; potatoes should be sorted and checked every few weeks as one rotten potato can infect all others; potatoes should not be kept near such fruits as bananas, apples, or pears which excrete ethylene gas that makes potatoes sprout.

For transporting purposes, trucks, railroad, aircraft, and ships are used. The containers for potatoes should be supplied with good ventilation system, open-sided and flat-racks so they can be loaded below the deck. If the weather is damp (snow, rain), the cargo has to be protected from possible moisture as potatoes can prematurely spoil otherwise. Moreover, high-water content makes this vegetable easy to be bruised (Potatoes, n.d.).

National Patterns of Consumption

Potatoes were first domesticated in the area of modern southern Peru and northwestern Bolivia dating back to the 8000-5000 BCE. According to certain estimates, the potato production was responsible for the development of urbanization and the Old World population from 1700 till 1900 when the growth measured from 300 million to 1.6 billion of people. It is believed that the introduction of potatoes to the Old World from the New World increased the life expectancy of many people due to its nutritious characteristics (Nunn, Qian, 2011).

The improper storage and consumption of the potatoes can cause very serious problems as the Great Famine in Ireland during1845-1852, when the main cause of famine was a special potato disease – the potato blight. About one million people succumbed to it and another million left the country. Despite the fact that such a blight destroyed potato crops around the whole Europe in the 1840s, the situation in Ireland was the worst as one third of the entire population was dependant on potato as the most important food (Nunn, Qian, 2011).

The food industry may require potatoes for a number of various products: pre-cooked products (the most popular – French fries), snacks, de-hydrated products (for instance, potato flakes, potato granules or potato flours), other products (salads, gnocchi, ready cooked meals, etc.) (Potatoes for Human Consumption, 2010).

Taking into consideration the culinary uses, potatoes can be prepared in very many ways: peeled or skin-on, cut up or whole, with or without seasonings. Most potato dishes are usually served hot, however some can be cooked, and then served cold (for example, salads made of potato or potato crisps/chips). The only requirement for cooking is to swell the granules of starch.

The most common dishes around the whole world are: baked, mashed, steamed or boiled potatoes; chips or French fries; scalloped and roasted, grated and then formed into dumplings; potato pancakes and even cakes. Moreover, it is very easy to cook potato in the microwave oven with the preservation of practically all nutrients. Soups, stewed dishes, and stuffing also can contain potatoes.

Talking about various cultures and the importance of potatoes in their cuisine, I would like to accentuate on the countries of Latin America, Europe, North America, Indian Subcontinent, and East Asia.

In the Peruvian cuisine, the potato is considered to be the main ingredient of many dishes. The country grows about 3,000 different kinds of potatoes. The most notable dished contain boiled potatoes as the main ingredient: pap rellena (with mashed condimented potatoes), Carapulca (dried potato), Chuno (freeze-dried potato) that can be called the main dish in a row of countries of the region: Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, etc. In Ecuador, one can taste locro de papas which is a thick soup made of potato, cheese, and squash (Johns, 1990).

In the United Kingdom, potatoes are a part of the traditional dish of fish and chips. Mashed potatoes are usually served with other traditional dishes (bubble and squeak which is cooked cabbage with meat and potato, shepherd’s pie, or bangers and mash), mainly as a part of them, and roasted potato is served with Sunday roast. New, fresh potatoes are frequently cooked with mint and served with some molten butter.

The popular Scottish dish is the Tattie scone (‘tattie’ means ‘potato’ in dialect). Boxty pancakes, which are made of grated potatoes mixed with buttermilk, flour , and baking powder, are eaten in the whole Ireland.

Bryndzove halushky is the national dish of Slovakia. It is made of flour and grated potatoes that are boiled for some time to form dumplings. Then dumplings are mixed with different ingredients like spices, meat or vegetables.

 In Eastern and Northern Europe, especially in Poland, ,Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and Scandinavian countries, newly harvested potatoes are considered a great delicacy. They are boiled whole and served peeled or even unpilled with dill, such "new potatoes" are usually consumed with herring. Potato puddings (kugel and potato babka) are well-known dishes of Lithuanian, Ashkenazi, and also Belarussian cuisine (Johns, 1990).

In Belgium, as well as in all other parts of Western Europe, sliced potatoes are often fried to make frieten, or the so-called French fried potatoes. A traditional Dutch meal, Stamppot, is cooked of mashed potatoes with vegetables.

The Hachis Parmentier is the most famous French dish which is named after a French pharmacist, agronomist, and nutritionist, Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who was very active in the process of accepting potatoes as an edible crop for the whole country in the late 18th century (Johns, 1990).

In the northeast region of Italy, potatoes are used to make such a type of pasta which is called gnocchi (tiny dumplings of potato, flour, often served with sauce). In practically the same way, cooked mashed potatoes are used in the dumpling  or Knödel and added to or served with meat dishes all over Eastern and Central Europe, but especially in Luxembourg and Bavaria.

A national Canary Islands dish is called papas arrugadas or Canarian wrinkly potatoes. Tortilla de patatas (a potato omelet) or patatas bravas (fried potatoes in a very spicy tomato sauce) are almost universal constituent parts of Spanish tapas.

In our country, potato is one of the most widely consumed crops, therefore, has a number of cooking methods.  Hash browns and often French fries  are commonly easily found in American cafeterias and fast-food burger joints. A baked potato with cheddar cheese is very popular. In New England so-called "smashed potatoes" (a chunkier variant of mashed potatoes with the peel) are often cooked.

With a rapid way of life, many people find potato flakes very convenient as they are an instant variant of mashed potatoes, where you just need to add water, oil or butter, and salt to taste. Salt potatoes Central New York are bite-size fresh, new potatoes that are boiled in water with salt and then served with molten butter.

Poutine consists of French fries, hot gravy, and fresh cheese curds. It dates back to Quebec of the 1950s, and has become a popular dish throughout Canada.

The most often eaten potato dishes of India are batata vada, aloo ki sabzi, and samosa (a spicy mashed potato which is mixed with some vegetables and stuffed into conical dough, deep fried). In the North of India, alu paratha and alu dum are favorite diet dishes: The first is one of the types of stuffed chapatti (thin pancake), the second is a very spicy curry with boiled potatoes (Johns, 1990).

Masala dosa is notable throughout India. It is a very thin pancake made of pulse paste and rice rolled over spicy mashed potatoes and eaten with chutney and sambhar (vegetables with lentils). Vada pav is a famous vegetarian Mumbai fast food dish. Aloo posto is a curry with poppy seeds and potatoes which is extremely common in Bengal, East India. Despite the fact that potatoes are definitely not native to India, they have become a vital food across the whole country, especially in the North.

In the East of Asia, especially in Southeast Asia, rice is more predominant starch crop than potatoes, particularly, in Japan and China. Nevertheless, potatoes are widely used in the North of China where it is difficult to grow rice. The most common dish – sliced potatoes with vinegar and green pepper. In winter, Chinese roadside sellers also offer roasted potatoes. In Thai and Korean cuisines such tradition is also observed.

The Overall Impact on the Human Diet

The potatoes fairly considered to be a very good source of the dietary energy, and even some micronutrients. Fresh potatoes contain up to 80 percent water and only 20 percent of dry matter. The protein of potatoes is quite similar to the cereals protein, being very high when comparing with other tubers and roots. Moreover, the potato is very low in fat, but rich in such micronutrients as vitamin C (in the skin) – 150 gram of potatoes gives half the required daily norm to the human body. Potatoes are a good source of iron and vitamin C promotes its effective absorption. Besides, Vitamin C is an effective antioxidant that stabilizes free radicals and helps preventing cellular damage). Vitamin C also helps to produce collagen, keep our gums healthy, and aids in healing wounds and cuts). This vitamin is vital for the immune system. Vitamins B1, B3, B6 (aids in producing nonessential amino acids that trigger the body proteins production; helps in protein, energy, and carbohydrate metabolism; it is also required for effective synthesis of hemoglobin); minerals – phosphorus, potassium (helps maintaining balanced blood pressure), magnesium, pantothenic acid (promotes carbohydrates and fats metabolism) and folate acid (works together with vitamin B12 in the production of red blood cells and is crucial in the proper DNA synthesis), niacin (supports the health of the central nervous system; helps to lower cholesterol, strengthens skin, converts all food into energy) riboflavin are nourishing human organism even during diet. In addition, dietary antioxidants that help to prevent different diseases (especially relating to aging) and dietary fiber (helps to control body weight and the level of sugar in blood which is crucial for those ill with diabetes; researchers also believe that it decreases the risk of heart and cancer diseases; fiber helps digestion system and keeps bowel regularity in norm) are also available (Prokop, 2008).

In a number of developing countries, and also in urban areas, the increasing level of income is driving the transition of nutrition towards more energy-rich food and ready food products. Being a part of such transition, demands for potatoes are growing. For example, in South Africa, the potato consumption has been increasing in urban areas, whereas in rural areas the corn (maize) is still the main dish. In China, increased urbanization and higher salaries have led to the growing demand in the processed potatoes. Therefore, the potatoes already play a significant role in diversification of a diet in many countries.

Nevertheless, where other major crops are at hand to meet the growing needs energy consumption, potatoes should not fully replace them but rather add up to the diet with its mineral content and vitamins, including high quality protein. Potatoes are very good as a staple food, however, balanced diets must include also whole grain crops and other vegetables (Prokop, 2008).

The cooking method that people use for the potatoes can drastically impact its nutrient effect. The negative feature of the growing consumption of the potatoes, as a vivid representative of the "convenience foods”, lies in the possible over-consumption of this high-energy product, easily leading to the obesity when combined with low physical activity. Therefore, the role of fried potatoes during the diet should be equaled to zero and this dish should better be avoided at all.  

Nonetheless the positive components, potato, as well as everything in our world, has another side of the coin which is negative. Potatoes contain a great deal of such toxic elements as glycoalkaloids, particularly chaconine and solanine. The toxic elements affect the nervous system leading to the overall weakness and confusion. The glycoalkaloids protect the plant from the predators and increase with a physical damage, exposure to light, and aging of the potato. The highest concentration of glycoalkaloids is under the skin. When potatoes are cooked at high temperature, these toxic elements are destroyed. Glycoalkaloids can also cause cramps, diarrhea, headaches, and in serious cases coma and death. Nonetheless, potato poisoning occurs very rarely (Talking About Potato Nutrition, 2006). 

The best way to cook potatoes in order to reduce any of harmful effects on human organism is to boil, stew, or steam it on high temperature. However, fried potatoes, despite a lot of people who prefer this type, cannot give the body anything good – they can really cause problems with weight and even diet-related diseases (the causes of Type 2 diabetes are multiple, and many researchers are still working on the problem in order to find out whether potatoes can be one of the triggers). Moreover, it is good to combine potatoes with vegetables and greenery so the food will be balanced and they will be assimilated much efficiently.

In conclusion, I would like to say that as everything on our planet, potatoes have already managed to obtain some biased thoughts concerning their positive and negative effects. However, the fact will always remain the fact: Since potatoes were found in the New World, and then introduced to the Old World, for many people life has become easier at least in the aspects of food. Potato contains a good number of very nutrient elements that, in combination with other element, can facilitate an effective promotion of our health and well-being. All the negative effects that the potatoes may have on the human body can be partially or completely eliminated, so there will be no harm for the organism. Proper storage and transportation are crucial for this, therefore, those entitled to do this job to deliver this vegetable to our food markets, must pay special attention to the conditions in which potatoes are kept.

The importance of potatoes for the whole humankind is also proved historically as it is considered to be one of the main factors of the rapid growth in the population and urbanization of the European continent during 1700 and up to 1900. The easiness in growing and taking care of this vegetable makes it a valuable method of fighting against starvation of many people around the whole world.

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