CIRCA 1530 Despite its strong cultural ties with Ireland in the popular imagination today, the Spanish first discovered the potato while exploring an abandoned Inca village. They found maize, beans, and an unidentified plant product (the potato), which they took to be some sort of truffle.
Soon after the Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro (circa 1471 or 1475-1541) conquered the Inca in 1532, potatoes began to make their way on board ships to Europe. They were grown by Basques in north6rn Spain after 1600. Eventually the potato traveled through Italy to Northern Europe.
The Columbian Exchange—the term for the transfer of species between the New World and Old World
—shaped global diet patterns and outlasted all the riches taken by the Spanish Empire. The exchange of foodstuffs also changed human history, as illustrated by the simple potato.
Some 300 years after its arrival, a mysterious potato blight appeared in Ireland, where the potato had become a dietary staple. The fungus destroyed the leaves and roots of the potato plant, ruining the crop for four consecutive years. During the next decade, more than 750,000 Irish died from famine and two million left their homeland for Great Britain, Canada, and the United States. The blight struck other Northern European countries, such as Norway, also leading to famine and increased emigration.