There’s no denying that French fries are the most awesome of side dishes and that they’re impossible to resist or to have “just one of.” They’ve been around the United States for about 200 years and, contrary to popular belief, a few fries with ketchup are not fatal. While the combination of carbs, sodium and fat may not be ideal, a few fries on the side won’t destroy a diet forever or add an immediate 10 pounds to your waistline. Potatoes are rich in a number of vital nutrients, and they are a staple food in the United States. Crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, salted and dipped into ketchup, fries are irresistible. Plus, there are more weird and wonderful facts about French fries than you ever imagined, so read on.
- Americans Love Potatoes and Adore Their Fries
The average American consumes about 30 pounds of French fries each year. Total annual potato production in the U.S. is close to 50 billion pounds, with a value of almost $5 billion, and French fries are produced from about 25% of the potatoes sold every year.
Research shows that Americans get about 1.5% of their daily calories from French fries. A small order of fries served in a fast-food joint contains about 270 calories (not terrible), while an extra-large order has more than 622 calories (so keep that in mind the next time you’re asked, “Do you want to super-size that?”). A medium sized order of fries contains 340 calories and, to burn off all those calories, you would have to do 47 minutes of high-impact aerobics, 58 minutes of cycling, or 90 minutes of bowling.
Potato-Related World Records
The largest serving of French fries was created at Twin Oaks Farms, Inc. in Eagle, Idaho, on September 20, 2014, and it weighed 1,003 pounds. This extra-extra-extra-large portion of fries used 1,256 pounds of raw potatoes, and 110 gallons of cooking oil was used to cook the fries.
The longest single French fry – measuring 24 inches – was once served in an order of curly fries at an Arby’s in Asheville, North Carolina. However, that record was apparently broken at a Taffy’s in Buffalo, New York, when a customer digging into a basket of fries pulled one out that was about 34” long. Today, at Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse located in Grand Central Station in New York City, you can order giant French fries that are made from one potato EACH and fried twice for extra crispiness. Each fry measures at about 6.5 inches long and 2.5 inches wide. That’s a lot of fry.
French fries were probably not actually invented in France. They may have originated in Belgium and are not called French fries in France and in most other countries in Europe. French-fry lore states that the “French”-fried potato got its name when it was introduced to American soldiers by Belgians who fought alongside them during World War I, when the official language of the Belgian army was French. The soldiers adopted the name “French fries” based on the language they associated with the food.
Potatoes were first introduced to Europe in the mid-16th century by the Spanish, but they really caught on as food two centuries later when Belgians and French started cutting potatoes into long thin slices and frying them in hot oil. At first, potatoes were banned in France, as they were considered to cause leprosy; however, once they were accepted, they were grown on a huge scale. The French started frying them and fries became extremely popular in Paris where they were sold by pushcart vendors on the streets. They were called “frites” (and still are to this day). In the United Kingdom, fries are called chips, while in the U.S. chips means potato chips (which are called crisps in the U.K).
McDonald’s: French Fry Leader
Around seven percent of the potatoes grown in the U.S. end up being sold by McDonald’s in the form of French fries, which represents about 30% of all the French fries sold in U.S. restaurants every year. McDonald’s buys about 3.5 billion pounds of potatoes a year. If a small order of fries weighs in at about 2.5 ounces, that’s about 10 billion small orders of fries or 320 billion fries per year. When you make fries at home, you can probably limit the ingredients to potatoes, oil and salt; unfortunately, McDonald’s fries have 19 ingredients! Some of these are included for flavor or to help in the cooking process, but others are used to preserve the finished product and don’t add to the health benefits of the tasty fried morsel.
Not All Bad
Though French fries are notorious for being a hardcore junk food, it’s important to mention their benefits (aside from their overt deliciousness). French fries are a good source of at least 10 vitamins and minerals, containing potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin K, magnesium, copper, and vitamin E. In moderation, they can be considered a decent snack, certainly compared to packaged processed junk food that contains loads of preservatives and additives that heap on the calories and unhealthfulness.
Homemade French fries are easy to make and when you make them yourself you can control the amount of salt and oil. Oven-baked fries are delicious and do away with the need for messy frying. Various tools such as French fry cutters can make the preparation process quick and convenient, creating a late-night snack in no time.
How to Celebrate the French Fry
Commemorated annually on July 13th, National French Fry Day is an unofficial holiday on which people celebrate the tasty, deep-fried potato treat that can be eaten alone with one’s fingers, paired with a burger, smothered in chili, or stabbed with a fork in polite company. In Bruges, Belgium, there is a whole museum dedicated to French fries called the Friet Museum so if you find yourself in Belgium on 7/13, you can celebrate French Fry Day there – how appropriate! Belgians consume the most fries per capita, compared to other countries in Europe, so it makes sense that the museum would be located in that country.
There Are at Least 18 Types of French Fries
The Food Republic website conducted a poll at their headquarters and within the restaurant community, and tallied up who loves which kinds of fries. They ranked the fries according to popularity and the results may amaze you. Highest on the list are waffle fries, potatoes “cut on a corrugated slicer that is rotated 90 degrees before each slice to create a perforated waffle.” Next up are Belgian fries, which are “irregularly fried and served in a cone with mayo and other condiments.” The list includes tater tots, garlic fries, shoestring fries, potato wedges, sweet potato fries, and, at the bottom of the popularity contest, potato “smileys,” which are “cut into thick rounds with a happy face stamped out and deep fried.
Nothing Beats a Fresh Batch of Fries
French fries have gotten a bad rap lately – perhaps rightfully so. Fried foods in general and fried carbs with lots of salt shouldn’t be eaten too often or in oversized quantities. However, for an occasional snack, when nothing else will do, French fries are the ultimate comfort food: undeniably satisfying and delicious… for as long as they last.