Edwards’s Patent Preserved Potato was the 19th-century equivalent of Smash. An advert from 1857 claimed that “This economical and pure Vegetable keeps good in all Climates, and is a preventative of Scurvy from the use of Salt Provisions.” A dish of mashed potatoes could be cooked in a few minutes at a cost of less than halfpenny per eight ounce ration. The product also took up far fewer cubic feet than fresh potatoes.

Advertisement for Edwards’s Patent Preserved Potato in 'Nautical Magazine' July 1857. Credit: British Library

Patent Preserved Potato had been used for many years by the Royal Navy, His Majesty’s Emigration Commissioners, Greenwich Hospital, merchant shipping, and the East India Company. In 1841 the East India Company put a small quantity of Edwards’ Patent Preserved Potato on board three ships, Seringapatam, Northumberland, and Reliance, as an experiment for feeding troops on the outward voyage to India.

Surgeon F Chapman, who was in medical charge of the troops on the Seringapatam, reported that the potato had been fed to the troops twice a week. Chapman was enthusiastic about the potatoes, saying that he could “without hesitation speak of them in the most favourable terms, believing them to be highly nutritious and conducive to health and nearly if not quite as good as the fresh vegetable”.

The Medical Board at Fort William Calcutta also tested the dried potato. They thought the flavour “somewhat inferior” to fresh potatoes but conceded that might have been caused by the sample coming from a cask which had been open for a long time, causing the contents to deteriorate. On the whole, the Board considered the product would be a useful article of diet in situations where fresh potatoes could not be obtained.

Preserved Potato was fed to British troops in the Crimea. The Times’s correspondent there said it was “too good to last” and new supplies were awaited.

Professor of Chemistry Andrew Ure provided an analysis of the nutritional value of the Preserved Potato – starch, “fibrine of demulcent antiscorbutic quality” vegetable albumine and lubricating gum. It was nearly as nutritious as wheat flour and more nutritious than peas, beans, sago or arrowroot.

Purchasers were warned to ensure that they procured the genuine article which had brass labels and red cases marked with the name of the sole manufacturers: F King & Son, late Edwards & Co.

This article first appeared on the British Library’s Untold Lives Blog.