Top 10 Foods: Past & Present: French Fries

The humble potato, the base of the ubiquitous French fry, has had a long and rather surprising history. Did you know that potatoes came from the Incan empire where they were first discovered and cultivated as early as 750 B.C.? In addition to eating, Incas did many things with potatoes: treating illness and injury, telling time, divination. They even worshipped potato gods and made sacrifices to them if crops failed.

When the Spanish invaded and conquered the Incan territory, they were not interested in eating what they called an “edible stone” but brought it back to Spain anyhow. At this time, the potato was quite small and bitter so the Spanish used it mainly as an in-case-of-emergency food.  Europeans were distrustful of this new, foreign food, even after the Paris Faculty of Medicine declared it safe for human consumption, (our potato had to endure terrible rumors ranging from being poisonous to causing leprosy). Through some strategic marketing by a French gentleman called Parmentier, the likes of Benjamin Franklin and Marie Antoinette became fans of the potato but it took a true famine to turn the potato’s reputation around.

What happened next is controverted as both the Belgians and the French take credit for being the first to drop a potato into a vat of boing oil.   Whether or not the actual act of frying up a strip of potato happened in the Meuse Valley or Paris, it is irrefutable that the French fry has become one of the most popular foods across North America and the perfect complement to almost any dinner plate.

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