Commercial French Fry Production
Or: The Ignominious Death of a Potato
Nearly half of the potatoes grown in the United States of America this year--over 3 million metric tons--won't end their days honorably, as baked, scalloped, mashed, or even boiled.
Instead, they will be subjected to a most extreme and shameful industrialized demise in order to satisfy the greedy, grease-driven, fried and fast food craving of the increasingly hungry and ignorant consumer, screaming for an answer to his frustration with the state of vegetable preparation and side dishes.
The french fry companies don't want you to know what they do. And some of what you find here may shock you. But only by exposing the truth can we hope to change it.
Some spuds make better fries than others. Stateside, most of the victims come from the following families:
In Britain, it's the Pentland Dell. On the Continent, the Bintje. You can make fries out of other potato varieties as well, but these are favored for specific qualities that put them at higher risk for french fry manufacturing. The favorite--the Idaho Russet--has a naturally mild flavor, easy to manipulate with additional seasonings and additives.
Poor, impressionable, Idaho Russett.
Once the potatoes have been rounded up, they are packed tightly into sacks and crates, then stuffed into trains for shipment across the country to processing plants.
Not all of them will survive the journey.
The first inspection separates the weak, useless potatoes from the healthy. Inspectors look for solid content and sugar content, dividing the potatoes into grades for processing. Mushy, older spuds are immediately discarded or set aside for other-than-fry use. If a potato passes the inspection, it is stripped and sent to the showers.
The mass-peeling of potatoes involves a large tank into which massive amounts of steam are introduced under very high pressure. After a sufficient amount of time, the pressure is suddenly released, and the skin virtually flies off as a result of the change.
The potatoes are then thrust half-naked before a bank of high power water jets that flay off any remaining skin and dignity.
The industrial potato killing complex then actually recycles the stripped skin of its victims for cattle feed or runs them through another process which produces methane and offsets the company's energy costs. A second scrutiny delivers more potatoes to another ignoble end; they are mascerated, reduced to starch for use in adhesives and paper-making.
A sickening and cruel efficiency.
A Potato No More
The 'french' in french fry comes from the process of slicing, not the country of origin. This is the end of the potato as you know it; the division of its body into thin, convenient strips.
But they are not just quietly slicing up one or two potatoes. They are cutting millions of them, and it will take more than a few sharp knives to get the job done.
The last vision in a fry-potato's eye is that of a rack of stationary vertical blades rapidly getting closer as the potato is shot out of a centrifugal pump-based cannon at 50 miles per hour. The Lamb Water Gun Knife is one of the original and best.
The thought of having to go through the remains of all those potatoes is simply too much for human contemplation; therefore, the modern age has set machines to the task, sending the raw fries through another, computerized inspection at the rate of a thousand strips per second.
Any further defects are detected by the remarkably accurate and thorough automated process, which sends the approved strips along and assigns the rest to masceration or compression into tater-tots elsewhere in the plant.
I understand if you are overwhelmed; but try to remember, it really stopped being a whole potato as soon as it hit the knives. Its body is still here, but its spirit has moved on. The rest is just debasement of the corpse.
Ours Is But to Do and Fry
The strips of former potato must now be transformed into a uniform, equally tasty army of fries; thus, all remaining physical traces of a potato's idenity are wiped out by the process of blanching.
The strips are run on a conveyor belt through a series of vats containing mostly hot water. Temperatures are regulated as the strips go through to produce a consistent color and sugar content, so that each fry will taste and look the same.
Following the blanching is the drying process, a simpler affair involving massive heaters removing between 25 and 40 percent of the water in a given strip. Different ends require different means; a deep-fried fry wants to be 75 percent water, while an oven-cooked job needs only 60 percent.
The strip, now merely a slender shadow of its former potato self, is almost ready for reemergence to the world as a tool of the mighty food industry. But before it can leave the plant, it must be able to survive the trip.
They were not so worried about them on the way in.
First, the strips are cooked in oil for about ninety seconds; the process is called 'par-frying', which as you may have guessed is short for partial frying. They are at this point neither living nor dead, and it is now that they are labeled with a new identity through the addition of supplemental flavoring. McDonald's, for example, adds beef flavor to their fries, brought to you courtesy of a highly protected and secret recipe cooked up at a usually undisclosed industrial flavoring facility.
Such is the way a particular, unique potato becomes the emotionless drone of a specific food company, and at the summit of its agony, it is held in that horrific moment by the blast freezing process, a 40 degrees below zero chill factor that locks in the torment and flavor.
From there, it is back to the box, and into a restaurant or freezer near you.
So think about that the next time you Biggie-Size.