Researchers from the University of Utah and National History Museum of Utah have reported findings of the world’s oldest mashed potatoes. Well-preserved ancient spud residue was discovered in the cracks of a stone cooking tool unearthed in southern Utah. The mashed potato particles are almost 11,000 years old. That’s even older than the potato I recently found in the back of my vegetable drawer, crawling with its own tiny civilization.
Humans have been eating cultivated potatoes for around 7,000 years — in fact, most of the shapes and colors of potatoes we eat today are descended from the same species: Solanum tuberosum. The potatoes found on the stone implement, however, were from a wild plant called Solanum jamesii, a nutrient-packed varietal native to the American Southwest. It produces walnut-sized tubers that grow below the plant’s poisonous leaves and flowers. According to the University of Utah’s news site, many Native American tribes harvested and ate the tiny wild potatoes, whose bitter flavor can be neutralized by cooking and mashing them.
What’s neat about S. jamesii compared to its domesticated cousin is that it may one day make for an all-around sturdier drought- and disease-resistant spud. Molecular geneticists are studying the plant’s DNA to help diversify the potato crops currently grown around the world.
“This potato could be just as important as those we eat today not only in terms of a food plant from the past, but as a potential food source for the future,” says Lisbeth Louderback, curator of archaeology at Utah’s Natural History Museum and senior author of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.