Are French Fries Really American? Illegal Potatoes

Although french fries are typically thought to be an American food, they are only popular in America. In this episode of Cozy Rainbow Podcast, we talk about the oldest french fries known to man, different styles and shapes of french fries, and fun facts about french fries.

French fries were actually invented in a European country. So, which European country can claim the creation of french fries? French fries are thought to have been invented in either France or Belgium.

Growing potatoes was illegal in France until 1742, when a French pharmacist (Antoine-Augustin Parmentier) popularized potatoes by throwing dinner parties with potato dishes and gifting potatoes to the king and queen. He also hired guards to watch the potato crops to give the appearance that the potato is a valuable and delicious crop, but then knowingly let townspeople steal from the crops at night.

Potato crops

Thanks to our third president’s love for French food, french fries came to America in the 1800s. Thomas Jefferson had his slave trained in French cuisine because of his taste for French food. 

Some historians believe that french fries are from Belgium. During World War I, American soldiers came across french fries while in Belgium. French is an official language of Belgium, along with Dutch and German.

The First French Fries: French Fried Potatoes

French fries first appeared in the cookbook Cookery for Maids of All Work by Eliza Warren in 1856 as french-fried potatoes:

Cut new potatoes in thin slices, put them in boiling fat, add a little salt; fry both sides of a light golden brown color; drain.”

French Fries Ranked

A journalist named Lucas Kwan Peterson ranked all of the fast food french fries in the Los Angeles Times. He ranks the top three fries in order: Five Guys, McDonald’s and Del Taco. Last three (out of 18) are Rally’s/Checkers, Sonic and In-N-Out.

Oldest Fast Food French Fries

White castle 1921

The oldest fast food french fries were probably served by White Castle. White Castle opened in 1921 in Kansas. The next fast food chain that we still know today opened in 1952: Kentucky Fried Chicken. In 1951, Jack in the Box opened in California. 

Poutine is the national dish of France. Poutine contains three main ingredients: fries, cheese curds and gravy. Poutine is a French-Canadian dish that was born in the 1950s in Quebec.


Sauces and Shapes

Popular dips for fries: ketchup, mustard, ranch, mayo & sriracha, gravy, melted cheese, poached eggs, hummus, thousand island dressing, steak sauce, sour cream & onion dip, Wendy’s frosty/milkshake, barbeque, sweet & sour, honey mustard and probably a lot more. What do you like to dip your fries in?

French fries come in many different shapes: curly fries, waffle fries, crinkle cut, wedge, shoestring, tater tots. What’s your favorite?


French Fries Creative Challenge

Send us your version of all fast food french fries, ranked. Try using or creating a quadrant chart like LA Times journalist Lucas Kwan Peterson did.

Classroom Resources