Of all the great ways to eat potatoes, the french fry just might be the best. There’s nothing quite like those crispy fried edges and the smell of the deep-fryer, or the way each individual fry finds the perfect balance of salt and fat. Despite how unhealthy you know they are, you can never stop at just one.
Fries can be jazzed up with fancy toppings or inhaled from a paper bag of greasy fast food. French fries are downright addictive and the perfect food for almost any occasion: a side at a cookout, a midday snack or a late-night wine session.
Those perfectly cooked potatoes are more than just an iconic American food; they’re eaten all over the world. Even in countries where you can’t find a McDonald’s, you can probably get your hands on some french fries. The Brits eat their chips thick-cut with salt and malt vinegar, Canadians eat theirs drenched in brown gravy, and Belgians eat fries dipped in mayonnaise. No matter what your condiment of choice is, you probably haven’t stopped to think or learn about what is one of the world’s favorite foods. There are a lot of things about fries you may not know. Here are 20 facts to think about next time you order yourself a batch.
In America, you refer to french fries as either “french fries” or simply “fries.” But if you want a plate abroad, you might have to use a different name. In the United Kingdom, they’re called “chips,” and in France, they’re called “frites.”
French fries have quite the complicated origin story. The French, Spanish and Belgians all claim to have invented them — and no one really knows whose story is true. Those who believe they originated in France say that they were first sold in 1789 by street vendors on the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris. Those who believe fries are Belgian say that they are called “French” because Belgian food and culture was often appropriated by the French due to their proximity. And those who believe potatoes were first fried in Spain point to the fact that the Spanish were the first to bring potatoes across the Atlantic from the New World. So who really invented french fries? That’s one of many food mysteries that may never be solved.
French fries have become a quintessential part of the American diet, but who brought them here? Turns out, presidents have had lots of interesting food preferences, and President Thomas Jefferson is responsible for Americans’ fry consumption. He brought them to public awareness after discovering them while working abroad as American Minister to France. His chef (and slave) James Hemings continued to make them for the president when they returned to the United States.
Here’s something you might not know about the world’s most famous chain: McDonald’s outsells every other company in the world in terms of fries. Approximately 7 percent of the potatoes grown in the U.S. meet the same fate: they become McDonald’s french fries. Maybe McDonald’s fries are actually addictive, because people can’t get enough of them. The fast food chain sells over a third of all french fries consumed in the United States, using its famous recipe that (for some reason) has around 20 ingredients.
You’re going to need a whole lot of ketchup. According to National Geographic, the average American eats nearly 30 pounds of french fries each year. If you’re anything like most Americans, every year you’ve consumed the weight of a small child in fried potatoes. But honestly, why cut back anytime soon? There are so many incredible french fries across America left to try.
Whether or not the Belgians actually invented french fries is up for debate, but they sure are proud of their fry-related history, nonetheless. There’s an entire museum in Bruges, Belgium, dedicated to fries. It’s called the Frietmuseum, and it features two stories of crispy, golden history. Visitors can learn about the rich history of potatoes, sample old-fashioned fries and learn the secret to making a perfect batch of fries at home.
Charles Dickens, who was surprisingly something of a 17th-century “foodie,” was the first author to pen french fries into literature. Dickens wrote about dozens of breakfast foods, dinner plates and pints of beer, and included an allusion to french fries in his 1859 novel “A Tale of Two Cities.” It was the best of fries, it was the worst of fries… Dickens described the dish we now know as fries as, “husky chips of potato, fried with some reluctant drops of oil.”
French fries are a “vegetable” in the same way pizza sauce counts as a “fruit.” But according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, fried potatoes are the most frequently consumed vegetable for children ages 2 to 4. Happy Meals may have gotten healthier, but a helping of fries isn’t giving a child as many nutrients as a side salad or other option.
The Belgians are so irked by french fries’ alleged misattribution that they’ve been fighting ever since to take credit for this world-famous fried food. Most recently, Belgium petitioned to UNESCO to claim fries and mayo as a food of their own.
In 2003, when France opposed the U.S. plan to invade Iraq, Republicans in Congress tried to take the “French” out of fries. The then-chairman of the Committee on House Administration, Bob Ney, changed the title of the menu option in Congressional cafeterias to the very patriotic “Freedom Fries.” However, the new name quickly fell out of favor as support for the Iraq War did the same. Congress cafeterias put “french fries” back on the menu in 2006.
Though you might think of fries as one of the worst foods you can put in your body, they actually do have some nutritional benefits. Since they’re made from potatoes (a vegetable), they have all the vitamins potatoes have, including vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium and iron.
French fries are proof that there is beauty in all shapes and sizes. There are at least 15 different styles of fry in existence: standard, waffle, thick-cut, belgian, curly, steak, shoestring, crinkle-cut, sweet potato, cottage, side-winding, tornado, wedge and smiley face, in addition to tots, if you count those as fries. And they’re all fantastic. Except, of course, steak fries. Those could be the worst things to ever happen to potatoes.
Waffles are made by pressing a batter into a mold. And while you can make some unexpected foods using your waffle iron, you can’t make fries. Waffle fries have to be cut into the quintessential shape from a whole, solid potato. How do they do it? This shape is accomplished by using a mandoline, which has a corrugated blade also used to make crinkle-cut fries. The potato is turned 90 degrees before each cut with the corrugated blade. This creates the waffle shape, which is then deep-fried as a whole piece.
Why are restaurant and fast food french fries so much better than the ones you make at home? One of a few potential reasons is that restaurants fry their potatoes more than once. After the initial deep-fry, restaurants will allow the fries to cool before frying them one, sometimes two, more times. These subsequent fryings give you a fattier, crispier end result.
Around the world, there are vending machines that can dispense all kinds of crazy things, including a hot serving of crispy french fries. The first of its kind debuted in 1982 in Australia and was called Mr. French Fry. It could cook and dispense french fries in under a minute. Since then, numerous companies have imitated the design; these machines exist in China, Belgium, Israel, Slovakia and the Netherlands, but have yet to become a thing in the United States. But it’s OK — you can still manually vend french fries directly into your mouth.
Eggs may have been a dime a dozen back in the day, but fries were a dime an order. If you had a dime in the 1950s, you could buy yourself a small fry, according to a McDonald’s menu from the 1950s. Imagine how many fries a dollar could buy… or how much food a dollar could buy the year you were born.
The thicker the fry, the trimmer the fat content. That’s because the crispy edge of the fry is where most of the fat from frying is stored. Inside the mushy potato interior, a fry is mostly starch.
Though french fries are now exclusively made of potatoes, the term used to refer to a cooking method rather than a food. French fries used to be called “french fried potatoes,” meaning that they were potatoes that had been “french fried.” To “french fry” a food meant to deep-fry it. Other foods that were commonly “french fried” included onions (onion rings) and chicken (fried chicken). Now, thanks to state fairs, you wouldn’t believe all the wacky foods people have deep-fried.
What is a “French Fry Feed,” you ask? A French Fry Feed is an event wherein huge swarms of people consume french fries simultaneously. The largest in the world, the Potato Bowl, takes place in Grand Forks, North Dakota. According to their website, up to 10,000 people attend each year, which is even better attendance than some of the best food festivals in America see.
Not all potatoes are created equal. Some are starchier than others. The ideal fry is made with a starchy potato, because this will ensure that the potato doesn’t taste too bitter. Russet potatoes are the most commonly used variety, and are almost always the kind used to make the best french fries in America.
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