Quick reads

From the Andean Mountains to a Belgian frites stand

Freija Poot
07 June 2018
The world-famous Belgian fries would not exist without the discovery of the potato, a nutritious product that originates from Peru. How did the potato spread in Europe?

 

The Incas already grew potatoes in South America in the second century, including at high altitudes in the Andean Mountains, which offer favourable growth conditions for potatoes, unlike for other plants. For the inhabitants of Peru, potatoes were their primary source of food.

After the Spanish conquests during the sixteenth century in South America, the potato found its way to Europe. Diego de Amalya is said to have taken the first plant from Peru or Chile in 1536. Monks spread the potato plant from Spain to the rest of Europe through their monastery gardens. The potato also ended up in botanical gardens. However, the plant did not immediately appeal to everyone: many people thought they had to eat the berries of the plant or the plant itself. As these are poisonous, the potato initially remained very unpopular. Many people used it as food for their pigs or gave it to the very poorest. Only later did they find out that the tuber was the edible part. In 1727, the potato was first recognised as food in Friesland. It gradually gained importance as a food crop and was grown in all European countries by the eighteenth century.

Several countries consider themselves the inventor of the famous fried potato.

Belgian fries

 

Many centuries of history separate the first cultivated potato from the first fries. There is a great deal of controversy surrounding the origins of fries. Several countries consider themselves the inventor of the famous fried potato. Fries are said to have been invented around 1680. A manuscript from 1781 shows that the fried potato was eaten for the first time at the end of the seventeenth century, along the banks of the Meuse in the region surrounding Namur. When the river froze and it became impossible to catch fish, the potatoes were cut in the shape of small fish and cooked in fat. Regardless of their exact origins, fries are thus inextricably linked to Belgium. They can be found in all Belgian villages and towns!

Thematic file potatoes

Food security Potato