I love an elegant meal just as much as the next person, but if you ask me what my favorite food is, the answer is simple: French fries. Even when I’m eating healthy, I can’t help it. Sometimes I just need a basket of crispy, golden brown, delicious fries. Over the years, I’ve become quite the fry connoisseur. I have a few go-to spots, but my absolute favorite fries are from a local burger joint down the street.
Today, I was meeting a friend for lunch. We each ordered a burger, and I insisted we get a basket of fries to share. She had to try these! When the fries came, they looked as beautiful as ever…perfectly crisped and browned around the edges. My friend took the first bite. I waited for her to tell me how amazing they were. But instead, she said, “Um….they taste like…fish?”
Confused, I tried a fry. Then another. She was right – our fries tasted exactly like fish. We sent them back and ate our burgers. The server said they did serve fried fish there, but there hadn’t been any near our fries. He wasn’t sure what went wrong and took them off our bill. I was so disappointed. What had happened to my favorite French fries?
With my fry craving not satisfied, I decided to Google it when I got home. Did the flavors just cross-contaminate in the fryer? It turns out that yes, the flavors did get combined. But that wasn’t the worst of it. The flavor problem comes with a much bigger issue.
After researching around the internet, I learned that my fries tasting like fish was because the restaurant wasn’t changing the oil enough. At first, this sounds like an innocent mistake, but as I read more, I learned that it’s actually really dangerous! It’s so dangerous that countries in Europe have laws about it. European restaurants heavily heavily regulate the changing of oil in fryers, due to connections to CANCER CAUSING particles attaching to food. My jaw dropped open….what??
It turns out that frying food is a perfectly safe way to cook if the restaurant takes good care of the oil. But, there are several studies that show that when you char meats and other foods, it can lead to high levels of HCAs and PAHs which are cancer-causing chemicals. If a restaurant continually reuses their oil without changing it in the fryer, little pieces of food detach and float in the oil. Those pieces just keep frying, over and over again, until they become little charred particles, just like the ones on the grill. Those particles then get stuck to other food that enters the fryer. These particles getting transferred seem to be the connection between Acrylamide being found in fried food. To stop it, all they would have to do is filter the oil or change it regularly! Is this so hard?
There is an easy solution here. The US needs to regulate oil use in the same way the European Union does. Until that happens, I’m not going to give up on my burger joint. Tomorrow, I’m going in there to talk to the manager and share this information. It’s likely that they mean well – I’m sure they have no idea the danger they are putting their customers in! It’s up to us to ask the right questions. I’m going to demand that they develop better oil practices if they want to keep my business. Otherwise, my fry habit is going elsewhere!