Is Vodka Made From Potatoes?
A common misconception amongst us booze drinkers is that Vodka is solely made from Potatoes.
From its modest ancient origins, used for medicinal purposes, to becoming the world's most popular drink of choice, the distilled beverage has seen many days (and perhaps too many hangovers).
But, What is Vodka Made from?
Firstly, it requires something with sugar and starch in order to ferment, which then produces the alcohol. ‘Something’ could be any grain such as barley, wheat, rye, or even corn, rice or grapes.
Potatoes are perhaps, one of the least favored products to use when making Vodka. Although most vodkas are somewhat neutral, hints of the base material will show up on the palate (in the mouth). This article will explain why.
Where did Vodka Originate and What was the Original Ingredients?
When we look at Vodka, and what it is made from, we can head to its origins. Highly debated are the origins. However, it seems to have been invented around the 8th century for medicinal purposes.
It was a very different vodka to what we know today.
The Polish word wódka actually meant Medicines, in which it was used to “increase fertility and awaken lust.” The first mentions of it being used as a beverage were in 1405 when it held the name gorzałka (meaning “to burn”).
Potatoes, however, did not arrive in Europe until the mid-1500’s from Peru.
Therefore, the original vodka, could not have been made from Potatoes.
Various sources indicated that it was around the 18th century the plentiful potato became an alternative base component to Vodka. Its high starch content and it being a cheaper raw material to wheat, impel the potato left the plates of the rich to the hands of the peasants.
The Evolution of Vodka and What was it Made From Historically
Meanwhile, in Russia, the Genoese ambassador (From Genoa in Italy) bought the first “aqua vitae” or vodka and gave it to the Grand Duke of Moscow in 1386.
It was believed the distillation of grape must be the “spirit” of a wine - where the English name derives. The low alcohol spirit was played with over the centuries via filtering, distilling & various recipes and by the 1860s, eventually became the more common version of Vodka we know today - and made from Rye or Wheat.
During this period, Vodka was so popular in Russia, that it even funded up to 40% of state revenue during Tsarist Russia.
Sweden is another big producer of Vodka. According to the book, Classic Vodka, from the 16th to 19th centuries the beverage was made from grapes to grain, until potatoes - when they became a cheap raw material.
In 1917, the Vin & Spirit government body was created, forming a monopoly on all business related to alcoholic beverages in Sweden. Under this law, which carried on to when Sweden joined the European Union, all vodka had to be made from potatoes due to an agreement with local farmers. These ‘starchy potatoes’ extremely lacked in flavor.
There was one exception for one brand: Absolut Vodka. Known for being “absolutely pure”, it was made from grain, not potatoes. It was an enormous success, and 1985 witnessed the first vodka being successfully imported into the USA.
So, How Is Vodka Made and What Is It Made from Today?
Vodka is an extremely versatile liquor made in many styles today.
Legally, vodka must be at least 95% - 96% abv. In order to achieve this, it is commonly distilled at least three, some even five times or more. By extracting a spirit to such a high strength, little of the character of the base material remains.
The assumption is that the more times it is distilled, the cleaner and smoother it is.
The flavor the producer wishes to create will depend on what base material is used and how many times the liquid is distilled.
The ‘heart’ of the vodka that has passed through the still (the part of the distillation located in the center of each batch) is the smoothest & the purest part kept and used for the product. The ‘heads’ and the ‘tails’ are removed.
Most vodkas are then filtered to remove undesirable flavors or impurities, some through charcoal or even limestone for higher quality.
Then, it is diluted with water to give a bottling strength of 20% abv. The type of water used varies from natural spring water to local tap water, will change the liquids “mouthfeel” and reflect in its quality.
Here is a list of some common Vodka brands & the base materials they use:
Absolut Vodka (Sweden)
Oui Vodka (France)
Tanqueray Sterling (Scotland)
Ketel One (Netherlands)
Ursus Classic (Netherlands)
Grey Goose (France)
42 Below (New Zealand)
So, what do these base materials “do” to the Vodka?
Although most of the characteristics are stripped after distilling, connoisseurs will tell you that a flavor remains.
Here is what they say:
Although Potatoes are still used in vodka production, it is not as common as we everyday folk think - nor is it as desired as such from producers.
As with most products, it depends on what market the brand wishes to appeal to, but personally as a consumer - I’d take sweet croissant over vegetal notes any day!
Vodka is made from a variety of diverse methods, from a range of diverse materials, which makes it the versatile & international drink we can enjoy, in many different ways.
So potato or not - Cheers
Or - Twoje zdrowie! (as the Polish would say).