Rediscover the humble potato

Our food columnist has fallen back in love with potatoes.

It has staved off hunger, is packed with potassium and can be pretty tasty

Rediscover potatoes, our food columnist says. (Amie Watson)

Enough with cauliflower.

The beleaguered brassica has been bashed around with its skyrocketing price, endless Facebook postings and Internet memes, but it's time to put the whole thing to rest.

Last time I checked, this isn't cauliflower season in Southwestern Ontario. So if you're buying a very expensive head of cauliflower, or any other seasonal produce, much of that has to do with the slumping Canadian dollar and drought in California.

Buy and eat it.

Or not.

I much prefer that humble ol' tuber the potato. Yes, of late, I've re-discovered the spud. It has much more going for it than cauliflower, which requires quite a bit of space to grow, as well as rich, deep soil and a lot of water. The potato, however, does well on its own almost forgotten underground. You can even grow them in a bucket of loose, sandy soil with lots of sunshine.

The potato has a lot of personality. It has a world of intriguing history behind it, going back to 8,000 BCE somewhere in the Andes in and around Bolivia and Peru (today there are still hundreds of varieties of potatoes grown in this region of the world).

Potatoes changed the world when they were brought to Europe by Spanish explorers. Add to that an entire mythology around the potato and whether it was Sir Walter Raleigh or Sir Francis Drake who introduced it to England.

You can't say that about cauliflower.

Super food

The potato is a "super food" of another magnitude: It has been credited with helping stave off famine and helped fuel the so-called Age of Discovery in the 15th-18th centuries when it virtually doubled Europe's food source.  

And yet, the potato, prolific and versatile, became a prime crop in the evolution of industrial mono-culture. Raleigh, for instance, is said to have had potatoes planted on his large holding of land in Ireland.

By the 1800s, the Irish were eating a diet where the solid portion was mostly potatoes. When the potato blight decimated the crop in the mid-1800s, one million died of starvation and hundreds of thousands left the country in desperation.

Nutritious and delicious

But none of that matters on the journey from your root cellar to your kitchen. Unprocessed whole potatoes are nutritious. With the skin left on, they are a great source of fibre, vitamins C and B6 and have more potassium than a banana, which is good for lowering blood pressure.

At about 110 calories for a medium potato, it is a piece of produce that has kept a lot of people alive.

The potato is a blank slate, a perfect white palette, on which to paint a wide range of flavours and techniques; as soup, baked with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt and pepper, scalloped, roasted, or mashed with cream, garlic and scallions: potatoes rule.

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.


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