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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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The potato Solanum tuberosum, now a staple food in most parts of the world, has been developed from what were originally an unpromising group of food plants growing at high altitudes in S. America. Vaughan and Geissler (1999) report that remains of wild potatoes dated to about 11,000 BC have been found in the south of Chile, and that there is evidence of cultivation beginning as long ago as 5,000 bc.

These first potatoes had small, misshapen, and knobbly tubers, of many colours, and a bitter taste, but could be rendered edible by techniques which the inhabitants of the region now embracing Bolivia and Peru learned in antiquity. Selection and natural interbreeding combined eventually to produce tubers which would be recognized in modern times as potatoes. Selection continues in modern times, drawing on the very wide range of characteristics which wild potatoes display. Some can be found as high as 3,960 m (13,000'). Some are so resistant to frost that they can grow on, or very near, the snowline. Others grow better in a warmer and drier climate, some of them in a warmer climate than cultivated potatoes can tolerate.