16th Century Europeans were wary of potato

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Idaho is officially the undisputed leader in the U.S. potato industry but it hasn’t always been that way.

Inca Indians of Peru grew potatoes for thousands of years before the Spanish Conquistadors returned to Europe in the 16th century with two of the South American plants. Europeans were first suspicious of the plant because, being a member of the nightshade family, the green vegetation of the plant is toxic.

According to the Idaho Potato Commission, the state’s rich, volcanic soil, climate and irrigation create the ideal growing conditions for the tasty crop. Add to that several potato pioneers — namely Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa, California-based botanist who created the Russet Burbank, Joe Marshall, the Jerome farmer who perfected the art of growing potatoes, and J.R. Simplot, the young man from Declo who made his fortune processing potatoes — and it’s no wonder potatoes are a big deal in Idaho.

While potatoes are an incredibly versatile food, about half of the potatoes in the U.S. are grown for french fries.