The History of French Fries: Who Invented French Fries?

The History of French Fries:  Who Invented French Fries?
Page content

French Fry Franchises

Every fast food franchise serves them or at least the places that are worth their weight in salt. Sizzling hot with greasy goodness, topped with several shakes of salt, gives us the artery clogging goodness that is the french fry.

Strips of spuds dropped into a ton of grease. They turn golden brown in front of our eyes as our mouths begin to water. Burgers are great, though the fries are what make the meal. They are dipped into shakes and devoured and smothered under mounds of chili, topped with cheese. French fries go with hot dogs, hamburgers, fish and all sorts of sandwiches. A big fat juicy steak tastes even better with a huge mound of fries on

Patty melt and fries

the side. Children go to fast food joints after school just to order and snack on these golden treats. Birds of all types are even found at fast food joint parking lots, sucking up as many of the salty strips as possible.

They come in thin strips, big, fat, juicy steak fry shapes, crisscross-cut style, and even curled. When we got tired of those shapes, we stuffed the spud into cylindrical style and called them by a different name - the tater tot. They have been combined with ketchup, ranch dressing, mustard and the ever famous, mouthwatering goop we refer to as “fry sauce”. Garlic, reduced to powder, is sprinkled over an order of fries, served as “garlic fries”. Fries are, of course, fried. For the most part, however, they are seen in ovens being baked to a crisp. Even potato chip companies got into the mix, with fries in a bag and seasoned with various flavors. Shoestring potatoes, sold in cans line market shelves around the country, as we can’t get enough of the french fry. Never in history has culinary craftsmanship been so tasty.

The fried spud strips have a following of fans they are so well loved. Have you ever wondered where it is these fantastic french fries came from? Who is the inventor of these delicious culinary treats? Who is it we have to thank for the best food ever invented and the five extra pounds on our hips?

The Belgian Fry?

As we delve into the answer of the person responsible for the french fry, we find several answers. The Belgian’s claim it was they who invented the fry. A couple of pictures from 1891, portraying the french fry stand from this era along with an unpublished document by the famous Belgian historian, Jo Gerard, shows proof that the fries were invented in the region of the Meuse in 1680.

The poor residents in the area ate fish as their main food source. The river froze, one year, creating an absence of the food. Instead of fish, the residents were left with potatoes, which they cut into a fish-shape, frying them, and thus founding the first french fry.

A French Invention?

The French also claim to be the inventors of the fry, which makes sense as far as the name goes. However, the “french fry” has nothing to do with France.

The French claim the fry originated in the city of Paris, full of romance, beautiful people, lights, wonders and the french fry. French restaurants still serve the fries in Paris on the Pont Neuf where they originated from, according to the French connoisseurs. Somewhere in the middle of the 19th century lies the inventor of the french fry. Apparently, nobody claimed the invention, nor did anyone take note of who invented the fry. The search for proof is still an ongoing project, however. My vote is on the French inventor, simply because the name fits.

Can the Americans Claim the Stake in the Invention?

Now, the Americans can’t be left behind in such a great invention! Another story claims the Americans gave the french fry its name. French fries, in the USA, were created and named after the “potato, fried in the French manner”. Thomas Jefferson ate the wonderful dish during his travels. He brought the frying method back to the colonies in the late 1700s. Serving them to a few guests he had over for a dinner at Monticello, they became popular and soon caught on as a dish most people loved.

When considering the story of the American tale of fries, it seems to me that if Jefferson brought them over to the U.S., they were already invented. The story of the invention of the fries seems a bit odd, since he wasn’t the one inventing them at all, but merely an admirer of this French-fried food.

Sour Tales of Woe

Various other claims exist around this wonderful food. One tale claims American soldiers went to Belgium near the French border. The soldiers called the fries “french fries” because of where they were found. Once again, this claim turns into a sour tale, as the fries had to be invented already if American soldiers ate them while in the region. This claim brings us back to the fries existing in Belgium in the first place.

In English, “to french” means “to cut into lengthwise pieces”, such as “french-cut style green beans”. Logically, the term “french fries” is short for “frenched and fried potatoes”. The English refer to the treat as “chips”, which is similar meaning to the term for “a chipped piece of wood”.

Does this leave us with “Belgium fries?”

Who Takes This Fry?

Yet another tale leads us to the French. A French army officer named Parmentier had been taken into custody by the Germans that had captured him. During his stay during the Seven Years War (1756-1763), he ate many potatoes. Upon his release, he introduced them to the French court, consisting of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette.

Loving the concept and flavor of the potato, Antoinette decided she wanted to add them to her regular diet; hence, the potato became part of the French menu. The potato caught on and traveled around the world to tables everywhere.

The speed in which the change occurred was apparent through the appearance of potato fields taking the place of flowers of the Royal Gardens in Tuileries through the French Revolution, 25 years later.

During the 1800s, the Irish had become dependent on the potato as a regular diet. Fungus infected the entire potato crop during the 1840s, which lead to the famous potato famine. During this time, pomme frites (fried potatoes) had shown up on tables. These fries weren’t regular fried potatoes, but ones that existed in long, slender pieces of spud that were fried. The fried spud immediately gained popularity throughout France and was even sold through the streets of Paris by vendors.

Americans immediately loved the dish when they made their way to them. Frites were known as “french fried potatoes” in North America. Further, there is documentation that the first use of the verb “to french” occurs in 1895.

In the United Kingdom, fried fish sold through vendors since the 1600s. In 1864, a British man (name unknown) decided that fried fish and the fried potato tasted good together. He teamed the two dishes up and invented the famous and popular “fish and chips”.

French fried potatoes later became known as “french fries”, and for the past several years, have been known as “fries”. Ironically, many countries refer to the familiar “french fry” as “American fries”.

Fries have been eaten with ketchup and other condiments in the United States; however, they are devoured with malt vinegar in the U.K. and with mayonnaise in the Netherlands. It is popular in France to eat them straight; however, the people of Belgium eat their fries with buckets of mussels.

More Potato History

During the time George Crum was chef at a resort in Saratoga, N.Y. in 1852, the invention of another popular choice in potato consumption took place. Crum was cooking meals from the kitchen when a plate of food, including a helping of french fried potatoes, went out to a patron. The patron grumbled that the potatoes were too thick and he wanted the chef to redo them.

Grumbling and a bit angry, Crum decided he would slice the potato so thin that the man could see through them. It is reported by Cornelius Vanderbilt that you could hear Crum mutter, “That thin enough for you?” Crum sliced the potato very thinly, and then fried the slices up.

Though Crum sent them out to make a point, the customer was not angry, but delighted. The potato chip was born. The chips were first known as “Saratoga chips” and were especially popular in the northeast as they were a side dish to clams and oysters. In 1920, they spread their good taste through the United States and then throughout the world.

In Conclusion and Oil

Belfast Christmas Market Stand

With all of the tales of how the fry was invented, the history of french fries is rather confusing as to who made what and where. Americans seem to have simply loved the spuds and brought them back, as all tales show. The French as the inventors of the fried food makes sense, due to the name, the type of cut and historical background. Belgium still claims to be the inventors of the french fry and they have to be given the credit for a couple of photographs and documentation. Although these do exist, it seems that they were from around 1891, where the French document and claim an earlier introduction to the potato.

When it comes to a 100%, documented answer to the question of who invented french fries, I stake claim in the French inventing the fry and say, “bring them on!”