The potato is a starchy, tuberous crop from the perennial nightshade Solanum tuberosum. In many contexts, potato refers to the edible tuber, but it can also refer to the plant itself. Common or slang terms include tater,[a] tattie and spud. Potatoes were introduced to Europe in the second half of the 16th century by the Spanish. Today they are a staple food in many parts of the world and an integral part of much of the world’s food supply. As of 2014, potatoes were the world’s fourth-largest food crop after maize (corn), wheat, and rice.
Wild potato species can be found throughout the Americas, from the United States to southern Chile. The potato was originally believed to have been domesticated independently in multiple locations, but later genetic testing of the wide variety of cultivars and wild species traced a single origin for potatoes. In the area of present-day southern Peru and extreme northwestern Bolivia, from a species in the Solanum brevicaule complex, potatoes were domesticated approximately 7,000–10,000 years ago. In the Andes region of South America, where the species is indigenous, some close relatives of the potato are cultivated.
The importance of the potato as a food source and culinary ingredient varies by region and is still changing. It remains an essential crop in Europe, especially eastern and central Europe, where per capita production is still the highest in the world, while the most rapid expansion in production over the past few decades has occurred in southern and eastern Asia, with China and India leading the world in overall production as of 2014.
Being a nightshade similar to tomatoes, the vegetative and fruiting parts of the potato contain the toxin solanine and are not fit for human consumption. Normal potato tubers that have been grown and stored properly produce glycoalkaloids in amounts small enough to be negligible to human health, but if green sections of the plant (namely sprouts and skins) are exposed to light, the tuber can accumulate a high enough concentration of glycoalkaloids to affect human health.