The First Potatoes

Potatoes were first grown in Washington State as early as 1792 when Spanish Explorer Salvador Fidalgo planted potatoes near present day Neah Bay. Today, most of the around 300 potato growers in our state can be found in the Skagit Valley and Eastern Washington. While climate and soil produce perfect potato-growing conditions in the Skagit Valley, in Eastern Washington widespread production was only made possible in the 1950's with the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River. Washington produces 20 percent of all US potatoes, making it the 4th most valuable crop grown in the state!

Today it is hard to imagine a menu without the potato in a starring role, from hash browns and French fries, to baked potatoes and potato salad, potatoes are versatile and delicious. The Inca Indians in Peru were the first to cultivate potatoes around 8,000 B.C. to 5,000 B.C. All current-day potato varieties derive from two wild ancestors, which were not as beautiful and smooth as the ones we find in store today and were bitter to taste. We've come a long way since then! 

(Photo: Wild potatoes from the Peru (top) and cultivated varies (bottom). Photo credit: David Spooner.)

Today's Delicious Varieties

Today, based on consumer demand, we have a much wider variety to enjoy than our ancestors could ever have dreamed of! More than 100 varieties are sold in the US today, but for the purposes of cooking, we can separate them in 7 categories: Russet, Red, White, Yellow, Purple/Blue, Fingerling and Petite.

The Washington Grown TV episode to the left is completely dedicated to the newer varieties: how they are grown, how to best enjoy them, and what the differences are between the traditional Russet potato and some of the new up and coming varieties. 

Washington Grown is a great way to get to know more about our crops and the people who grow, process and prepare them!

Making Great Potatoes Even Better

Potatoes are almost fat free and a good source of potassium, vitamin B6, iron, and vitamin C. They have 3 grams each of protein and fiber, low sodium, and no cholesterol. So what are some of the ways we can make this super veggie even better?!

Potatoes are rich in phytonutrients, naturally occurring chemicals that are believed to have a beneficial impact on human health. 

Scientists at USDA's Agricultural Research Service in Prosser have developed new, colorful varieties, such as the Purple Fiesta (see left) with even more healthful benefits. 

- a team that includes university researchers in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon and the potato industry.

Photo credit:  Stephen Ausmus

Another way to improve the already amazing potato relates to reducing food waste. Between the field and your kitchen, bruising causes a lot of potatoes to be discarded. One example of a potato engineered to bruise less is the Innate Potato, which combines the best traits of wild and cultivated Russet potatoes to prevent bruising. Its developers estimate that this potato could result in 1.4 billion pounds less potato waste annually!  Learn more about how the Innate Potato was developed and how farmers feel about growing it.