The great British love of spuds


Dec 12, 2014 by British Blog

What do Annabelle, British Queen, Jelly, Orchestra, Upmarket and Pizazz have in common?

Stumped? Well, they are all varieties of Britain's staple foodstuff, the potato, but you can be forgiven if you have never heard of them; although around 500 types of potato exist, only about 80 of those are grown commercially, so you're perhaps unlikely to see Annabelle in a local supermarket any time soon.

The British love of spuds is legendary: we have been cultivating them since at least 1600, and gave the world the oven chip in 1979. Every resident of the UK eats around 130kg of potatoes annually, and 96% of households buy them. However, the potato market is changing, and spuds may have their work cut out if they are to compete in the market with rice and pasta.


The history of British potatoes

Potatoes are not, of course, originally British at all. They are thought to have originated in South America some 8,000 years ago and were first cultivated in Peru 6,000 years ago. When the Spanish invaders discovered potatoes, they brought them back to Europe and crops were being grown in Britain by 1600.

The popularity of potatoes really grew during the Industrial Revolution, when they were the perfect solution for workers who needed cheap, portable, versatile and energy-rich foods. In the 1860s, the first fish and chip shops in Britain opened for business and demand for potatoes shot up, as the 'national dish' took its place in the national culture.

During World War II, potatoes were not rationed and Brits were encouraged to grow them in any available soil as part of the 'dig for victory' campaign. In 1995, the potato became the first vegetable to be grown in space.


What now?

Although the UK still loves fish and chips (and chips in general), and is eating an increasing number of crisps, the way we eat our spuds is changing. According to research commissioned by the Potato Council, the dedicated potato shopper is getting older, with more than half of sales being made to people aged over 45. Most of us now eat our potatoes as part of an evening meal, less often for lunch, and the growing focus on healthy eating and home cooked meals means that we are preparing them differently. Consumption of baked potatoes is up, that of boiled and mashed potatoes is down.

The key challenge to potatoes in the market, particularly where younger consumers are concerned, comes from rice, pasta and noodles. Younger people seem to be less tied to notions of traditional British cuisine, and enjoy, for example, Mexican and Indian dishes that do not use potatoes. Perhaps bizarrely, however, younger people eat at least as many - if not more - roast potatoes than the average pensioner.

The nutritional value of potatoes - they contain lots of vitamin C and vitamin B6, plus if eaten with their skins provide crucial dietary fibre - makes them a valuable part of our diet and it seems unlikely they are going anywhere soon. However, with the average British consumer now knowing how to cook just 8-14 dishes, perhaps it is time to start adding some potato-based recipes to that number?