Did You Know That “French” Fries Didn’t Come From France?

Here's the story behind your favorite fast food snack.

IMAGE courtesy of Belgapom

It's the lament of the Belgians: Fries are actually a Belgian culinary invention and yet, it's called "French fries". Belgium and its citizens adore its fries that it's considered to be one of Belgium's most beloved national dishes and they even have a museum in its honor. A trip to a frietkot, or fry shop, is always considered a treat, and the fries are treated as the main meal instead of merely a side dish. 


It's this love for these fried potatoes which prompted Belgium's potato industry to launch a campaign to change the mindset of the world regarding the popular "frites" and take back ownership of its beloved snack.  


However, you may be wondering: if these beloved fried potatoes aren't from France, why are they called "French fries"? The world first came upon these fried potato sticks as "French fries" during World War 1, according to research done by Romain Cools of Belgapom, the recognized association for the Belgian potato trade and processing industry. He claims that one point of confusion could be the way the potatoes were cut. It was originally called "French fried potatoes", and potatoes were cut and fried in the French way. France, after all, is the culinary center of the world.



Another story that could have led to the confusion, Cools said, is how during that same war, soldiers discovered the fried potato snack and loved the snack so much, it was brought back to America. However, the confusion was because the people from whom the soldiers learned of the snack spoke French when they were in Belgium at a time when the country was controlled by France. It's noted that Belgium has three official languages: French, German, and Dutch.


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A frietkot, or fry shop, cook tossing freshly cooked Belgian fries with salt. 


While all this confusion is understandable, the Belgium government seeks to promote Belgian fries or "frites" as one of Belgium's Uniquely Phenomenal "99 Reasons". These fries are considered different from the usual fries we are more familiar with since there is a specific way of cooking the fries that differs from any other fries.


Here are three reasons why Belgian fries are different from what you're normally used to eating: 


1 It's cooked in beef lard.

This gives the Belgian "frites" its unique flavor. Oil just can't impart the same flavor into the potatoes and is basically an ingredient in its preparation. 


2 It's cooked twice.

The first fry is at a low temperature which is meant to cook the potatoes until tender, and then the second fry is at a higher temperature to induce the crispness of the outside while maintaining the soft and tender texture of the potato on the inside. 



3 It's cut thicker. 

The Belgian fries you'll notice are thicker than the usual shoestring variety. The matchstick thickness of shoestring fries can't give the Belgian fry its signature interior. It's because each stick is thicker that, when fried twice, keeps the potatoes from drying out as it is wont to do when fried for too long.


Now that you know the difference between the usual fries you eat at your fast food chain and Belgian fries, the next time you order the fried potatoes, call it "frites" in honor of the beloved fries which originated in Belgium.




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Nov 15, 2011

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