How time fries: Have potatoes outlived their potential?

Birgit Reitz-hofmann / / Today

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By Keith Wagstaff

Americans are falling out of love with fries. At least that’s what the United States Potato Board is saying, according to the Chicago Tribune, which reports that sales of processed frozen potatoes to restaurants have dropped by 500 million pounds since 2007. But what if Americans are just getting bored with the same old french fry? We take a look at the evolution of fries … and what might be coming next.

Belgian fries

Fried potatoes are believed to have appeared in Belgium as early as the 17th century. Rumor has it that American soldiers coined the term “french fries” during World War I when they arrived in the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium and discovered the tasty snacks. Today, the thick-cut, hot Belgian fries still provide a quick, cheap meal to students and bar-hoppers on the streets of Europe.

The modern french fry

The salty, thin french fry we know and love today was popularized by — surprise, surprise — McDonald’s. Their original innovation? Using a combination of oil and beef fat back in the 1950s, when everybody else was using vegetable oil. Micky D’s switched back to vegetable oil in the 1960s, although it was hydrogenated — meaning their fries were filled with dreaded trans fats. They switched to trans fat-free fries in 2008.

Curly fries

Who doesn’t love these springy little guys? Popularized by fast-food chains like Arby’s, these babies are cut with a special spiral slicer and usually seasoned with spices like cayenne pepper, paprika, and onion and garlic powder. Just try and eat only one … I dare you.

Waffle fries

Think of these as the larger cousins of the curly fry. Made popular by chains like Chick-fil-A, you can make these at home by cross-cutting a potato with a mandolin. Some restaurants simply serve them salted, while others spice them similarly to curly fries.


This indulgent take on the french fry comes from our French-speaking neighbors to the north in Quebec. The dish basically consists of french fries smothered in thick, brown gravy and squeaky cheese curds. Replace the cheese curds (basically young, unaged chunks of cheese) with Cheddar and you have “disco fries.”

Duck fat french fries

Dine at foodie favorites like The Harrison in New York or Hot Doug’s in Chicago and you’re likely to find these. The concept is pretty simple — take potatoes, cook them in duck fat, salt them, and you’ve got duck fat french fries, a kind of french fry confit that tastes so good you won’t realize it’s slowly killing you.

Next up:

Who knows? But we're assuming it involves Grant Achatz, a sous-vide machine and some Heinz ketchup foam.