05 October 2020
From leprosy to delicacy
A FRENCH miltary pharmacist was one of the first European people to discover the delights of mashed potato and help convince his Government and fellow countrymen that the vegetable was not a cause of leprosy.
Despite being imported from South America in the 16th century, potatoes initially failed to take off in Europe as a delicacy and France deemed them to be so unappetizing that the French Government passed a law banning them as a food source for humans in 1748.
They were instead reserved for animal feed in France and it was widely believed that they caused leprosy.
Antoine-Augustin Parmentier, who served in the Seven Years War between Britain and France, was captured by Prussian soldiers and forced to live on a diet of potatoes while imprisoned. During his incarceration he discovered that potatoes were a tasty food source and began experimenting with different variations of the tuber.
He returned to France after his prison release where he demonstrated different ways to cook potatoes, including mashing them, and began to call on the French Government to lift its ban.
He began a series of publicity stunts in his campaign to lift the ban on potatoes, hosting high-profile dinners where different variations of the potato, including mashed potatoes, featured prominently.
The French Government was eventually forced to lift its ban on potatoes in 1772.
Photo: Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay