Who Invented French Fries?

Do they really come from France?

overhead view of air fryer french fries served in a bowl
Photo: Dotdash Meredith Food Studios

Have you ever stopped to consider the origin story of French fries? You have?! Well, my friend, you've certainly come to the right place.

Do French Fries Really Come From France?

Welllll ... maybe. French fries could very well be French. But they could also be Belgian. Their exact origins are the source of much debate between the two cultures, as each claim fries potatoes as their own culinary creation.

So who's right? Let's investigate.

a plate of french fries with a ramekin of ketchup
Chef John

History of Potatoes In Europe

Though potatoes are a staple food across much of Europe these days, the tuber wasn't quite so popular in the continent just a few hundred years ago.

In fact, it wasn't even introduced to Europeans until the 16th century, when Spanish forces brought the potato from Peru back to their home country. From there, it made its way to Italy and then to the surrounding countries.

Air Fryer Frozen French Fries recipe

The Case For Belgium

At the time the potato was first introduced to Europe, Spain controlled much of what is now Belgium. This means the country's citizens would've likely been some of the first in the continent to access the root veggie.

According to some accounts, the French fry's history in Belgium dates back to the 1700s. Belgian people traditionally fried very small fish to eat with their meals. When the rivers froze over in the winter, they were forced to turn to the next best thing: the potato, which they sliced thinly to replicate the size of the tiny fish.

As for the dish's modern day name, French fries, many people believe French soldiers were introduced to fried potatoes by the Belgians during the Franco-Austrian war of 1859. According to this theory, even though France didn't invent fries, the country popularized sliced and fried potatoes throughout the rest of the world.

looking down at a large bowl of crispy, golden brown french fries
dotdash meredith food studios

The Case For France

It wasn't so easy for potatoes to make their way into French diets. Most people in the country turned up their noses at the foreign vegetable, and it was considered edible for only hogs.

French pharmacist and agronomist Antoine-Augustin Parmentier famously championed the potato, exposing notable people like Benjamin Franklin and Marie Antoinette to his favorite vegetable.

"He also would hire armed guards to surround his potato patch, to try to convince people that what was in the patch was very valuable," according to TodayIFoundOut.com. "He would then tell the guards to accept any bribes they were offered by people and let them 'steal' the potatoes."

Despite Parmentier's valiant efforts, potatoes wouldn't be widely accepted by the French people until a famine in 1785 made them almost impossible to avoid.

At some point over the next few decades, Parisian chefs began to cut potatoes into strips and fry them. "Frites," as they're called, quickly became a popular street food sold by push-cart vendors.

Was this a French invention or a practice borrowed from Belgium? We may never know for sure.

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