Whenever anyone asks me what is one food item that I miss the most from home, whilst in Albania, I immediately reply – potatoes. Now, don’t get me wrong it’s not like there is a lack of potatoes in Albania or that it is particularly hard to cook them. The thing is they just do not taste like their Russian counterparts. Let me tell you, you can hardly meet one person in Russia who does not like potatoes. It seems that potatoes are our national vegetables and we use it extensively in our cuisine. So considering myself somewhat of an expert on potatoes, I have decided to tell you all you need to know about potatoes, from what they are good for and how to consume them to their unexpected uses and dangers.

Let me start with a little background to the Russian potato story. Legend has it that Peter the Great brought a bag full of potatoes from one of his Western Europe trips in 1700. Although for around a century afterwards it was considered poisonous and called “the devil’s apple” for no apparent reason whatsoever, from mid-1800s onwards it became so widely spread that Russia now ranks third after China and India for potato production, producing more than 30 million tons each year, with an average Russian consuming over 130 kilos of potatoes a year. In comparison, Albania produces around 240 000 tons a year and an average Albanian consumes only about 30 kilos of potatoes a year. Potato is easy to plant, easy to grow, easy to store, easy to cook and it has been continuously called savior in the global food crisis including for its low and stable prices.

Now let’s move on to the pros and cons of potatoes. Interestingly enough, potatoes are actually low calorie, obviously if they are not deep-fried. One medium-sized baked potato contains only about 110 calories. Potatoes are also a good source of vitamins C and B6, manganese, phosphorus, niacin and pantothenic acid. Fiber and potassium in potatoes can help lower cholesterol, thus lowering the blood pressure. The biggest drawback to potato consumption is the fact that they contain high amount of starchy carbohydrates. These carbohydrates cause blood sugar to surge suddenly and then dip, which means that people become hungry soon after eating, which in turn might lead to overeating. On the other hand the same starch works much like fiber and aids digestion.

Potato has been continuously called savior in the global food crisis including for its low and stable prices. Photo: WebLibrary

So moderation is the key, when it comes to eating potatoes, which is clearly not the case with us-Russians! Sometimes I feel we add potatoes into every dish: be it salads, soups, pancakes, dumplings. Doctors recommend that the best way to eat a potato is in its whole, unprocessed form by means of baking it, microwaving or steaming it, which causes the lowest amount of nutrients to be lost. Moreover, the skin has to remain on the potato and should be eaten, as it contains a large amount of nutrients and vitamins. Come to think of it, one of the most popular dishes in Russia is kartofel v mundire, which literally means “potato in a military uniform”, which is cooked whole and served with some salt, sour cream, dill. Among other favorites is a Belarusian dish kartofelnye draniki, which are basically grated potato pancakes made by adding some salt, egg and ground pepper to it and fried on the hot pan with a little bit of vegetable oil.

In fact, Belarus can be considered an absolute champion for unusual ways to use potatoes, as the vegetable grows there in abundance. Not only do they organize multiple potato fests all over the country, they actually make vodka out of potatoes.

Among other ways to use potatoes are:

1. To remove rust by rubbing a cut potato or potato skin on an affected area.
2. To make a hot or cold compress, as potato retains heat or cold well.
3. To desalinate your soup by putting a few raw potatoes into it, which will absorb the excess salt.
4. To shine your shoes and silverware.
5. To soothe burns, including sun burns, as raw potatoes have antibacterial properties.
6. To use it as a beauty aid for treating those dark circles and blemishes.
7. Potatoes are also used as an eco alternative to plastic. The starch from potatoes is the perfect material for creating completely biodegradable spoons, forks, and dishes.

I hope this article made you want to include potatoes into your diet. Now tell us, what are your favorite potato dishes and do you know any other unconventional ways to use potatoes? As always, bon appétit!/AgroWeb.org