Are French fries really French?

French fries are probably not French (Photo: Cyclonbill)

French fries are probably not French (Photo: Cyclonbill)

First thing to clear up is the spelling. Should it be French fries or french fries? Here it is quite clear that since the initial origin was thought to be France the fried potatoes should be spelt with an initial capital F. Even if the perceived origin might be wrong. It seems to be more likely that the origin is Belgium, and more precisely the French speaking part. Some people believe that the term “French” was introduced when British and American soldiers arrived in Belgium during World War I and tasted Belgian fries. They supposedly called them “French”, as it was the local language and official language of the Belgian Army at that time, believing they were in France.

It was thus a terrible mistake to associate the Belgian food with France. All you have to do is to walk through Brussels at lunch time and see masses of people enjoying the fried potatoes alone with only a variety of different sauces on top. Wisely the Belgians keep it neutral and only call them frites (or frieten if you are in the Dutch speaking part). Another name used for the popular dish in several countries, among them Sweden, is pommes frites. That is a good description of what the food actually is – a fried potato stick. Not always known for their diplomatic skills, in the United Kingdom people go one step further and most often call the fried potato sticks for chips. This might be just to fool the Americans who would think of thinly sliced potato, rather than a stick, that has been deep fried or baked until crunchy when talking about chips. Normal people would call them crisps.

The frying oil contributes to energy consumption (Photo: Wikimedia)

The frying oil contributes to energy consumption (Photo: Wikimedia)

With all that out of the way let’s move on to the more important part of this blog, the nutrition information. Actually, in the UK they might be on to a good thing since their chips are cut thicker and thus absorb a little less fat during frying. Because fat is one of the problems. The potato sticks are normally fried in beef tallow, lard, or other animal fats, adding saturated fat to the diet. Replacing animal fats with palm oil simply substitutes one saturated fat for another. Replacing animal fats with partially hydrogenated oil adds trans fat, which has been shown to both raise LDL cholesterol and lower HDL cholesterol. Definitely a bad thing. Canola/rapeseed oil, sunflower-seed oil, or mixes of vegetable oils are also used, but beef tallow is generally more popular, especially amongst fast-food outlets.

The final fries contain a lot of energy from carbohydrates in the form of starch and from the fat absorbed during the frying process. A large serving of 150 g of fries provides close to 500 kcal from the 60 g of carbohydrates and the 25 g of fat, plus 350 mg of sodium. To spend that amount of energy you would need to run for an hour or walk for more than two hours.

So the lesson? Call them pommes frites or chips and you don’t have to worry about the spelling and eat them sparingly unless you walk for two hours a day. And blame the Belgians and not the French for inventing the little tempting devils (although the French chefs seem to want to share in the blame).

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