Pronounce it wrong and you call the server a putain, or prostitute, in French. Order it as “disco fries” and you confuse cheese for cheese curds while insulting the proud Quebecois society. But on a cold day, eating poutine inside a fetid Quebec ski lodge is restorative—especially with a hangover. It’s a rare hybrid that transcends its humble parts of fries, gravy, and cheese curd. But here’s what you’re really eating. Dig in.


This anti-foaming agent is added to deep-fryer oil to prevent it from bubbling over and becoming the Fukushima prefecture. It’s also found in Silly Putty.

“Natural Beef Flavor”

Frozen commercial fries, such as McDonald’s, have “natural beef flavor.” But McDonald’s divulges only that “natural beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredient[s].” But how is it finished?

Cheese Curds

Made from sour milk, cheese curds are best enjoyed before the natural air bubbles that release an audible, rubbery squeak on the tooth collapse—usually within 24 hours of manufacture. If it sounds like you’re eating a condom, your curds are fresh.

Saturated Fat

Real gravy is made from fat drippings and a thickener such as roux. Commercial gravy avoids the former. Harvey’s, a Canadian burger chain, uses gravy with zero saturated fat, but its poutine contains 15 grams. (It’s in the curds.)

Disodium Inosinate

A staple flavor enhancer of instant gravy mixes, it’s made from bacteria hatched in rotting tapioca starch and adds a meaty “umami” taste.

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