National Potato Day: Humble spud must fight growing competition

Carbs like pasta, rice, bread, cous-cous, sweet potato, quinoa all out to corner same market

National Potato Day: The very fact the food authorities believe it is necessary to give the humble spud a day to call its own is a sure sign that competition for a place on the Irish dinner plate is getting serious. File photograph: Getty Images

National Potato Day: The very fact the food authorities believe it is necessary to give the humble spud a day to call its own is a sure sign that competition for a place on the Irish dinner plate is getting serious. File photograph: Getty Images

 

What on earth would our past generations make of Ireland’s National Potato Day?

The very fact the food authorities believe it is necessary to give the humble spud a day to call its own is a sure sign that competition for a place on the Irish dinner plate is getting serious.

Bord Bia was putting a brave face on it this morning as, largely unnoticed by most people, the Day of the Spud dawned.

But the reality is that upstart carbs like pasta, rice, bread and cous-cous have been eating away at the dominance of the potato for decades. In more recent times these have been joined by food oddities such as the sweet potato - a thing which is neither sweet nor potatoey - and even quinoa.

Irish people’s dependence on the potato has fallen dramatically in recent decades.

Our average annual consumption, at 85kg per person, is 2½ times higher than the world average, but in the 1990s that figure was 140kg per head. Today only 70 per cent of the carbohydrates in our diet are supplied by the potato. In time past it was in excess of 90 per cent.

The comparatively high price of potatoes in the Republic has not helped its cause.

High prices

During the summer it emerged that Ireland is the second most expensive country in Europe in which to buy potatoes, with high prices here blamed on retailers insisting on higher margins than elsewhere in the EU.

Another thing which has driven up the price of potatoes in the Republic is the retailers’ obsession with what they perceive to be beauty.

Farmers and potato wholesalers have been critical of retailers’ rejection of as much as 30 per cent of their crops because of perceived blemishes.

French, Spanish and Italian retailers are not so picky when it comes to potatoes and they accept them - knobbly bits and all.

An increase in the amount of imported potatoes from the UK has also been a factor driving prices higher in the Republic in recent times.

That is not to say the potato is in mortal danger - far from it, in fact.

According to Bord Bia, 97 per cent of Irish families eat potatoes regularly and between us we will spend over €200 million on potatoes this year.

The Rooster remained cock of the walk, making up 58 per cent of total sales.

“We are in an era where people have more food choices than ever before, and are increasingly health-conscious. So the fact that potatoes are naturally fat-free and gluten free is hugely positive in their favour,” said Lorcan Bourke, the head of Bord Bia’s potato section.

‘International food’

“We are keen to highlight to people that potatoes are a true international food with delicious recipes available from all over the world.”

To that end he rolled out a couple of potato ambassadors - because that is a thing now, apparently -to pay tribute to the tuber.

Up and coming chef Mark Moriarty was one of them.

He accused Irish people of being too conservative when it comes to potatoes and suggested we never look far beyond mashing roasting and boiling.

“Very few Irish people experiment and push out the boat when it comes to cooking them,” he complained.

“I would love people to be more adventurous and to discover the versatility and joys of this wonderful food ingredient.”