You might have heard the term “Irish Potatoes” but what does it actually mean?
We’ll look at what exactly Irish potatoes are and the history behind one of our nations most important foods.
What are Irish Potatoes?
What we know as “Irish Potatoes” are essentially just a variation of white potatoes. This might sound too basic to be true but unfortunately the reality is relatively boring. Foodies will know that you can find hundreds of variety of potato around the world, and in many cases they will be different shapes and colours from what we know and recognise as a potato. In some cases you’ll find red, pink, purple and orange potatoes!
In this case, the Irish Potato (official name Solanum Tuberosum) is a small, round and generally white potato with a thin skin and overall delicate texture.
The reason many people think of white potatoes as “Irish Potatoes” is not that they originally came from Ireland (they didn’t), but that they were introduced to Ireland, and other countries, via British imports.
As a result of this simple quirk of fate, the name stuck.
Types of Irish Potato
There is more than one type of Irish potato.
If you ask an avid potato lover what their favourite kind of potato is, you will get plenty of different answers, but some of the most common include Maritiema, Cultra, Navan, Nectar, Electra, Rooster, and Kerrs Pink.
Defining the “best” type of potato is subjective and in many cases depends on what you actually plan to do with it but Maritiema is perfect for mash or fries and Kerrs Pink is better to have with a traditional roast dinner.
In case you’re wondering, the Irish Potato famine was primarily caused by a potato called the Irish Lumper. This was a lumpy potato that Ireland enjoyed due to its ability to grow in even the harshest conditions and terrains.
The Irish Potato Stereotype
The Irish as potato lovers is a stereotype that has been passed through decades and generations, but where does it actually come from and how did it originate?
In the past, most land in Ireland was owned by British landowners. The British would use Irelands fertile soil to grow food for themselves, leaving the native population with very little.
Their only land was poor-quality soil, where crops were a nightmare to grow. Upon finding the newly imported potato, a cheap food source that could grow almost anywhere, the rest is history…
In one respect, the potato solved multiple problems all at once but, as we now see with hindsight, it set up the Irish population for an almighty fail with the arrival of the Irish Potato Famine.
During the 1840s a nasty fungus called “phytophthora infestans” infected most of Irelands potatoes. It spread incredibly quickly, decimating the country’s most popular crop. Worst of all, because most potato plants were clones of one another, none had evolved the ability to fight it off. This coupled with the local population’s over-reliance on just one key food source lead to what is forever known in Ireland as “The Great Hunger”.
1 million people died, 1.5 million fled the country to the USA, Canada, Australia and so on, and even today the Irish population hasn’t truly recovered and reached pre-famine levels.
How the Potato came to Ireland
Before all of this, the potato had to actually be imported into Ireland. Despite now being so intrinsically linked to the nation, one of Irelands national foods never entered the island for most of its history.
The first potato came from the Americas, and it wasn’t until the two sides of the world met that the potato came to Europe.
It’s thought that the first person to introduce the potato to Ireland was Sir Walter Raliegh in 1586. We couldn’t find any historical verification of this, however but, when the Spanish came to Ireland, they popularised the spud further.
Irish Potato Dishes
Despite a tricky history with the potato, it’s still one of Irelands most popular foods and if you’re ever lucky enough to come visit us, there are several potato dishes you ought to try. Here are some of the most popular:
Ireland’s favorite brand of potato chips (or crisps as we call them)
As well as Potatoes, we also love cabbage (for similar reasons in terms of easy growing etc.). Colcannon is a combination of mashed potato and cabbage
- Irish Stew
Although potatoes are not the main ingredient here, a classic Irish stew of beef, potatoes and root vegetables is never far away from the kitchen table
- Shepard’s Pie
Mince lamb in a meaty sauce, topped with mashed potatoes and baked in an oven. It’s the perfect dish for a cold winters day
- Boxty Potato Cakes
Think of these like pancakes made from mash. To make them, mix cold mashed potato with whatever filling you want, press into pancake shapes, and then fried
- Dublin Coddle
Made from sausage, bacon, potatoes, and onion. The Dublin coddle is a super cheap but fantastic meal
If you’re interested in other Irish food stories click here.