The Mysterious Origins Of Potato Salad

These days it is hard to imagine a picnic, July 4th cookout, or barbecue that doesn't feature potato salad as a side to accompany your sandwiches or grilled and smoked meats. This creamy concoction seems to lend itself well to a pairing with standard outdoor fare and summertime activities. In one survey of American adults, potato salad claimed the crown as respondents' favorite barbecue side, (per The Daily Meal).

There are countless ready-made options available to purchase in the deli of your local grocery store or you can whip up a homemade potato salad recipe. In addition to the main ingredient, a typical version might call for red onion, freshly chopped herbs like parsley and dill, mayo, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, minced garlic cloves, salt, and black pepper.

Different alternatives to mayo abound including vinegar-based potato salads such as German potato salad, mustard-based potato salads, and dairy-based potato salads that use sour cream and/or yogurt (via Kitchn). But who actually invented this culinary concoction that has gradually risen to become a staple of outside gatherings?

European roots

The answer of where potato salad originated has yet to be definitively confirmed, and we don't even know for sure who to recognize for creating its most prevalent contemporary variation in America. It is believed that Spanish explorers may have first brought potato salad to the New World in the 16th Century, which entailed boiling potatoes in a blend of vinegar and spices or even wine, according to NPR. They had discovered potatoes during their conquest of South America and introduced them to Europe, which eventually led to different countries experimenting with their own versions of potato salad.

However, the first documented written recipes of potato salad are attributed to German immigrants who arrived in America in the mid-19th Century, often containing a mixture of potatoes, oil, vinegar, and herbs. German potato salad recipes even varied by German region, and unlike what we are accustomed to today, they were generally served hot (per Just a Pinch).

No company or individual is credited with being the originator of mayonnaise's addition to potato salad, though mayo-based salads' growth in popularity coincided with the emergence of big-name mayo brands in the 1920s and '30s. While the exact provenance of potato salad may be unclear, it does appear this tuber-tastic dish has taken firm root in the U.S.