There are few foods that have been eaten at some point by just about everyone in the Western world, but french fries are one of them.
Call them fries, call them chips, call them frites — whatever you call them, fried potato sticks are one of the most universally beloved junk foods on earth.
What is it about fries that makes them so popular? It’s probably the fact that, calorie count aside, they’re the perfect food. When submerged in hot oil that’s the right temperature for the right amount of time, something magical happens to sticks of sliced potatoes: They get golden brown and crispy on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, and become the perfect vessel for just about any topping, from salt and ketchup to gravy and cheese curds.
Ask any chef and he or she will tell you that there’s a real science behind making perfect french fries. If the oil is too cold, they’ll be limp and soggy; if it’s too hot, the outside will burn before the inside is cooked. All great fries need to be cooked twice; once in cooler oil to “blanch” them, and again in hotter oil right before service to crisp them up. The starch level needs to be just right, too; many chefs let their fries sit in water before cooking to allow some of the excess starch to drain.
When a fry is great it’s legendary, but when a fry is bad...it’s really bad.
Whether they’re Ore-Ida fries from the freezer section of your supermarket, fries hot out of the fryer from McDonald’s, or fries served alongside a burger at your local diner, french fries seem everywhere you turn in this country.
But they’re not just an American food, they’re popular the world over. And why not? Fries are just about impossible to dislike.
1. Nobody Can Agree on Where They Were Invented
The French, Spanish, and Belgians all claim that they were the sole inventor of fries. Belgian fry lovers claim that they’re called “French fries” because all Belgian food is appropriated by the French; the French claim that street vendors on the Pont Neuf bridge were the first to sell them, in 1789; and the Spanish claim that, as the first European country to bring potatoes back from the New World, they have a historical argument for inventing them.
2. British Chips Are Thicker Than American Fries
You might think that chips and fries are identical save for the name, but visit a traditional British chipper and you’ll see that they couldn’t be more different. Chips are cut much thicker, are slightly soggier, and actually contain less fat than American fries because of their thickness.
3. They Contain More Acrylamides Than Just About Any Other Food
Acrylamide, a chemical compound that develops when starchy food is cooked at a high temperature, is considered a potential carcinogen by the U.S. government and has been shown to cause tumors in the adrenal glands, thyroid, and lungs when consumed in high concentrations. In a 2002 study, the World Health Organization determined that the intake level for toxicity was 500 times higher than in the average diet, but more studies are being conducted.
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4. McDonald’s Has a Lock on the Market
About 7 percent of all the potatoes grown in the United States are turned into McDonald’s fries. The chain sells more than one-third of all fries sold in restaurants.
5. Thomas Jefferson Introduced Them to America
Jefferson served “potatoes, fried in the French manner” at a White House dinner way back in 1802.
6. Don’t Steal Your Boyfriend’s Fries
Taking French fries off of a significant other’s plate is supposedly one of the most common causes of lovers’ quarrels at restaurants.