The Dark Side of the Iconic French Fry
What is it about french fries? How can someone who doesn't even like potatoes, love french fries? One could say that the reason they have remained relevant for centuries lies within their irresistible flavor, but is that enough anymore? Health food has taken America by storm and people are responding to the benefits of eating well. Nutritive foods not only taste better, they are entering the culinary arena with bold new textures and flavors created by talented chefs like Chole Coscarelli and Tal Ronnen.
Fast food became part of American culture in the 1970's when McDonald's golden, crisp fries reigned supreme. It wasn't until the words like trans-fats and acrylamide came on the scene that those who indulged in this American classic, were plagued with a sense of guilt.
In 1993, health advocacy groups called for fast food chains to stop frying with trans-fats (partially hydrogenated oil). And now decades later, the Food and Drug Administration is moving to eliminate trans fats from the food supply. Several studies have shown a connection between trans fat and increased levels of bad cholesterol as well as the fact that people who ate the highest amounts of trans fat had twice the heart-attack risk of those who consumed only a little as stated by Betty Hallock, LA Times.
Acrylamide was discovered in 2002 by a group of Swedish researchers according to the International Food Information Council Foundation, who at the time did not know that acrylamide existed in food. In most cases of extreme exposure, acrylamide is carcinogenic and has been known to cause cancer in high-dose experimental lab tests and rodent studies. In an article by Mary Oaklander, Editor at Time Health it's stated "At very low concentrations, it will accumulate during the years of childhood and adolescence and will contribute to serious diseases, including cancer".
Fortunately there are plenty of healthful choices for french fry lovers. Try this root fry recipe that I developed which replaces deep-fat frying with an oven roast cooking method and a drizzle of olive oil.
-5-6 medium sized parsnips peeled and sliced into 1/4" sticks about 3" long
-2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
-3/4 teaspoon sea salt
-3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with foil and coat with non-stick cooking oil. In a large bowl lightly toss the parsnip fries in olive oil to coat. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper and re-toss gently. Spread the fries onto the sheet pan and bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the fries start to brown. Oven times vary, so you will want to keep an eye on these. Remove from oven and taste; adjust seasonings to taste and serve warm.
Recipe revised from Germaine Carter's 1950 The Home Book of French Cookery for Fried Potatoes