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Boiled, mashed, in stews or roasted, potatoes are a staple food across the world.
As a result of years of cultivation, there are now well over 5000 varieties of potatoes.
Potato is a member of the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which includes other familiar favourites like tomato, aubergine, chilli pepper and petunias.
Potato plants grow up to 1m tall with hairy stems and leaves divided into around four leaflet pairs. Flowers can be white, pink, purple or blue with yellow centres; grow on stalks around 3cm long; and measure about 2.5cm across. Potato fruits are a succulent but inedible spherical, yellow-green berry, up to 4cm across. Underground, the edible root forms a tuber that can be a range of colours, sizes and shapes, depending on the cultivated variety (cultivar).
Food and drink
Potatoes are boiled, roasted, baked, and fried. They are a key ingredient in many soups, stews, pies and other oven-baked dishes.
Potatoes are also made into a range of foodstuffs including chips, French fries, crisps or potato chips, potato bread, and potato flour. You'll also find them in alcoholic beverages including vodka and schnapps.
Potatoes can be frozen, soaked and dried to form a food known as chuño, a traditional food of the Aymara and Quechua people of the Andes.
Potatoes provide all the essential nutrients, except calcium and vitamins A and D. They are a good source of carbohydrates and vitamin C, providing about 25% of the vitamin C in the average European diet.
Materials and fuels
Potatoes form a key part of animal feed.
Potato starch can be used as an adhesive material.
Using electrodes made from copper and zinc, a potato can be used as a battery to power a small LED.
Did you know?
In 2020, the world produced nearly 360 million tonnes of potatoes with over 22% coming from China alone.
Potatoes naturally contain solanine, which is toxic to humans. However, it is found in very low concentrations in the edible tuber, with highest concentrations found in the flowers.
In the UK, potatoes are best planted between March and May, and can be harvested from June through to October.
Potatoes are susceptible to a disease called potato blight, caused by a fungi-like microorganism called Phytophthora infestans.
Where in the world?
Sheltered, warm environments that drop to low temperatures, but not below freezing.
Find it in our gardens
As climate change creates warmer and more humid conditions in parts of the world, potatoes are at a higher risk of potato blight, which thrives in these conditions.
Potato blight can result in the death of entire potato crops, posing a huge risk to food security for countless countries.
To secure the future of our food in a changing world, we need to protect the wild cousins of our commonly eaten and used plants, like potatoes.
These crop wild relatives are a source of valuable genetic diversity and useful traits which could help breeders develop new and improved crops that are more resilient to the impacts of climate change, like extreme temperatures, or pests and diseases.
Kew scientists have been working alongside the Global Crop Diversity Trust on a project which has involved collecting seeds from the wild relatives of potatoes, and storing them in our Millennium Seed Bank to conserve them for future generations.