Potato Corner News: The History of French Fries

The History of French Fries

No one really knows exactly who brought these short strips of perfection to the world. What we do know, however, is that we are IN LOVE with them.

The general consensus is that these golden goodies originated with the Belgians. The common story is that they were frying thin strips of potatoes between the 17th and 18th century in the Meuse Valley in Belgium.  The story is that, in this area, the people would often use small fish as a staple in their meals and fry them up.  Winter tends to put a bit of a damper on fishing, so it seems these incredible people decided to use potato strips instead.

On the other hand, many people take the name of these strips of perfection into play, and credit the French for the fried potato strips’ origin. The popularity of the potato in France is mostly thanks to a French army officer named Antoine-Augustine Parmentier. He championed the potato throughout France and parts of Europe. Parmentier was taken captive during the Seven Years War, and during his stay in the prisons in Prussia, he discovered that potatoes were a very versatile food source.

During the time that Parmentier was captured, the French never ate potatoes and purely used them as feed for farm animals because they thought that potatoes caused diseases. In 1748, the French Parliament had banned cultivation of potatoes as they were convinced potatoes caused leprosy.  However, Parmentier was forced to cultivate and eat potatoes and discovered that the French ideals about the potato were false. In turn, he began fiercely championing the potato as a potential food source when he returned to France. Finally, in 1772, the Paris Faculty of Medicine proclaimed that potatoes were edible for humans, though Parmentier was still met with resistance and even mild hostility as he attempted to cultivate and promote potatoes.

Once the French accepted the potato though, its popularity skyrocketed in France. By 1795, potatoes were being grown on a very large scale in France, including at the royal gardens at Tuileries, where the gardens were converted into potato fields.  Within that span of time, the French either invented or learned to make fries.  Once discovered/invented French fries became extremely popular in France, particularly in Paris, where they were sold by push-cart vendors on the streets and called “frites”.

Regardless of whoever came up with the idea, it seems to be the French that spread fries to America and in turn, the Americans, through fast food chains, that popularized them to the rest of the non-European world as “French fries”. As it just so happens, because Americans were the ones to cause this mass spread of “French fries”, most of the eastern hemisphere refers to them as “American fries.”

Fun French Fry Facts:

  • Burger King’s French fries (and probably McDonald’s too) are sprayed with a sugar solution just before being packaged and shipped to the various franchise locations.  This produces the golden color through caramelization of the sugar when it is fried.  Without this, the fries would end up having about the same outside color as inside after being fried.
  • Popular condiments to dip French fries in varies quite a bit from country to country.  For America, its ketchup. For most of Europe, it’s mayonnaise. The UK tend to lean toward malt vinegar. The French like theirs plain just as often as not. And the Belgians go with….an egg? Yep that’s right. Eggs are often cracked over a plate of fresh from the fryer fries in Belgian. This mostly cooks the egg white, but leaves the yolk a little runny for dipping. To each his own, right?
  • The slang term for potato, “spud”, comes from the spade-like tool that is used to harvest the potatoes.

For more fun potato knowledge, keep reading our blog! And visit Potato Corner for all your favorite french fry flavors! http://www.potatocornerusa.com

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