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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » December 21, 2012
Polska…tastes good!
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The Potato: A Valuable Traditional Vegetable
December 21, 2012   
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Poland’s moderate climate and the domination of light soil, combined with a rich potato-growing tradition and many cultivated varieties—all this contributes to the special flavor of many potato dishes originating from Polish fields. There is no doubt that historical factors have had a major impact on the popularity of potatoes in Polish cuisine.

History: why potatoes are hot in Poland
Contemporary Polish cuisine is the effect of processes occurring over many centuries across Europe. Experts say the rapid development of regional cuisines in Europe dates back to the 16th century and is connected with the discovery of other continents.

Potatoes were brought to Europe from overseas and spread across the continent as a result of the intermingling of national cultures, a process that initially took place at royal and aristocratic courts, and later also covered the gentry. Potatoes were originally absent from Polish cuisine. They entered it as the country opened to culinary innovations from Italian, German, Oriental, French, Jewish, Russian, Hungarian, Czech and English cuisine.

Many regions in Poland—including Podlasie, Wielkopolska, the Sieradz region, Silesia, Kashubia, Podkarpacie, and Podhale—boast a great variety of original dishes made from potatoes: potato pancakes, Silesian dumplings, ruskie pierogi, kartacz dumplings and pyza dumplings. Other traditional regional dishes include zalewajka and kartoflanka soups, potato sausage, potato cake also known as kartoflak, Zeppelin dumplings, gray dumplings and many other delicacies made from potatoes as the sole or main ingredient.

Rich in potassium and other minerals
The potato is rich in a great many nutritious components. The average dry mass content is 23 percent, ranging from 13 to more than 36 percent depending on the variety and farming conditions. The main component of this dry mass is starch, from 11 to 17 percent in edible potatoes.

Potatoes contain a lot of fiber, around 2.5 percent of fresh mass. This fiber includes cellulose, hemicellulose, pectin and lignin as well as other substances resistant to digestive enzymes. Thanks to this, potatoes can improve digestion.

The composition of minerals in potatoes is very beneficial. Minerals account for about 1 percent of fresh mass and the main component is potassium, of which there is about 500 mg in 100 g of potatoes. The same portion also contains 50 mg of phosphorus, 15 mg of calcium and about 20 mg of magnesium as well as sodium (3.2 mg) and iron (0.8 mg).

The large amount of potassium in potatoes helps the human body get rid of harmful substances and excess water. According to doctors, potassium reduces blood pressure and strengthens the heart. Potatoes are also recommended for kidney diseases. Potassium binds excess salt (sodium chloride) in our bodies. The magnesium contained in potatoes has anti-stress properties and, like potassium, reduces blood pressure and strengthens the heart.

The minerals found in potatoes help the body maintain the acid-base balance; lack of such balance is a cause of many diseases.

Providing vitamins all year long
Available year-round, potatoes are also a cheap source of many vitamins that our body needs. The average content of vitamin C is 20 mg in a 100 g portion of potatoes, but it can vary within a very wide range. New potatoes contain more vitamin C than mature ones. Its content also decreases during storage. Eating 200 g of potatoes covers 30-50 percent of our body’s daily vitamin C requirement.

Potatoes also contain vitamin B1 (thiamine)—about 0.01 mg, B2 (riboflavin)—0.07 mg, B6 (pyridoxine)—0.25 mg, vitamin PP (niacin)—1 mg, pantothenic acid—0.25 mg, folic acid—0.04 mg, vitamin E (tocopherol)—0.1 mg and vitamin K (phylloquinone)—0.06 mg per 100 g of fresh mass.

Potatoes contain small amounts of lipids, but a very valuable kind because most of them are unsaturated fatty acids like linoleic acid and linolenic acid. Potatoes contain no vitamin A but do contain carotenoids.

Compared to other vegetables, potatoes do not accumulate any substantial amounts of heavy metals, nitrates and nitrites, or pesticide residues. The level of these substances usually does not exceed permissible values. It is the same for glycoalkaloids—these substances are found in large amounts only in the green parts of the potato plant and in potato sprouts.

The vitamin C in potatoes helps prevent cancer, circulatory diseases, the common cold and flu as well as assisting fat burning. People watching their weight should eat potatoes, though of course without any fat. The B group vitamins strengthen the human nervous system.

Valuable protein, too
Potatoes contain about 2 percent of protein, of which 25 percent is actual protein and the rest are free amino acids. The biological value of potato protein is comparable to that of soybean protein and is only slightly lower than the protein of hen’s eggs which are considered the nutrition standard in this regard. Potato protein is rich in exogenous amino acids, which means those that the human body is unable to synthesize. They are leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, threonine and methionine. Eating potatoes together with eggs or dairy products provides the body with more valuable protein than eating meat—and there are fewer calories in such a meal, too.

Low in calories
Next to wheat, corn and rice, potatoes are considered to be decisive for feeding the global population and are a versatile plant.

The calorific value of boiled potatoes lies within a wide range, 50-90 kcal per 100 g. The more starch there is in the potato tubers, the more calories they contain. In edible potato varieties, the starch content is 10-17 percent, which translates into calorific value that is seldom more than 80 kcal.

Boiled potatoes without any gravy or fat are among the least calorific products, so—contrary to popular belief—there is no way they can cause weight gain.

Four peeled potatoes for lunch or dinner, i.e. about 300 g, contain about 180 kcal, the same as 50 g of pork chop, one fried egg, or 50 g of buckwheat groats.

Excellent as a side dish
The special thing about potatoes is that they go well with other products. You can make many different separate potato dishes, or potatoes can simply accompany other courses. They are good for everyday lunches and dinner parties. They are cooked in many different ways and go well with almost any other product.

Potatoes are eaten mainly as an addition to meat or fish; they can be served boiled, as mash, roasted or fried. Potatoes can be the main ingredient of an innumerable variety of soups. They are an increasingly popular component of salads, added to other vegetables or even to meat or fish. They are excellent for all kinds of casseroles. They can be served fried or grilled; they can be turned into savory pancakes, potato cake, patties, pierogi and dumplings. French fries are the most popular in the catering business, potato chips are the ubiquitous snack food. Potatoes can even be used to produce sweet foods and desserts.

Wojciech Nowacki, Ph.D.
Potato Agronomy Unit
Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute, a state-run research institute in Jadwisin near Warsaw
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