What’s in a name?

Early farmers first raised the potato about 8,000 years ago near Lake Titicaca in the Andes, where planting potatoes is still the most important part of the farming year. Here the locals call the potato Mama Jatha, or ‘mother of growth’.

The more common name for potatoes, used by Incas and modern Latin Americans alike, is papa, but this isn’t the name that led to ‘potato’ in English.

We call potatoes ‘potatoes’ because of a mistake by the Spanish who first encountered them. They confused potatoes with the sweet potatoes the Incas also grew. These were called batata and the Spaniards called the potato patata, which translates as white potato.

Indeed, for quite a long time sweet potatoes were known as ‘common potatoes’, with our potato being known as the ‘Virginia potato’ or ‘Irish potato’.

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