As the story goes, French fries were first sold in the streets of France in the late-1700s, just before the infamous French Revolution. Over two hundred years later, they’re still one of the most popular (and simple) snacks in the world!
Before you order fries with your Impossible burger, though, you’re probably wondering, “Are French fries vegan?”
French fries are usually vegan. When they’re cooked traditionally, fries are a simple snack made from potatoes, vegetable oil, and seasoned with salt.
However, many restaurants add extra ingredients (such as meat-derived seasoning) that often makes their fries non-vegan. It’s always best to do your research before you consume any French fries!
The good news is that French fries are incredibly easy to make on your own. So, even if none of the restaurants in your area offer vegan-friendly fries, you can always make your very own 100% vegan fries from the comfort of your own home!
Below, I’ll outline some of the main reasons why French fries wouldn’t be vegan, so you know what to look out for. Then, I’ll answer some of the most common vegan-related questions about French fries, and break down the three simple ingredients that traditional fries are made with.
Isn’t it time you learned more about America’s favorite food?
Why Would French Fries Be NOT Vegan?
When French fries were first sold on the streets of France, they were just boiled and fried potatoes that were seasoned with salt. It was a simple, filling, and delicious dish that almost everybody loved (including foreigners).
Although France is credited as the original creators of fries, they blew up when founding father Thomas Jefferson (who loved French culture) brought the recipe back to the United States.
Today, French fries are one of the most-loved foods in the world and are sold at almost every fast-food restaurant!
There’s just one problem: Not ALL French fries are vegan.
Since the original recipe was so simple, restaurants started to add their own unique flair to the fries to make them “original.” Some restaurants made extra-thick or extra-thin fries.
Other fast-food restaurants experimented by frying the fries in different oil or adding different seasonings, cheese, and other toppings.
That being said, there are a lot of non-vegan French fry additives that you should be aware of.
So, let’s take a few minutes to look over some of the common culprits that could cause this otherwise vegan dish to turn into a not-so-vegan snack.
Non-Sustainable Frying Oil
One of the main reasons why a certain type of French fries might not be vegan is because they’re cooked in non-sustainable frying oil. The biggest culprit here is usually palm oil.
On the surface, most people automatically assume that palm oil is vegan-friendly since it comes from palm trees. That is, until you look below the surface…
After an in-depth study of the industry behind commercial palm oil production, you’ll probably think of it differently yourself!
Palm oil is incredibly prevalent in today’s commercial food industry, as it’s one of the cheapest and most readily available cooking oils in the world. However, this widespread oil is also one of the main contributors to rainforest deforestation.
Indonesia and Brazil are the two largest exporters of palm oil. Unfortunately, these two countries have very few laws that protect the natural rainforests and ecosystems.
Every year, commercial palm farms burn down thousands and thousands of acres of natural rainforest that can never be replaced. Why? Well, to fuel the growing demand for cheap palm oil, of course!
If you remember anything from high school biology, then you may remember that the rainforests are our planet’s air purifiers.
They filter carbon emissions and release oxygen, keeping the air safe and breathable for humans. Without them, the negative effects of global warming and greenhouse gasses will only be amplified.
While losing ancient trees is never good, the real impact is far greater.
When the rainforest is destroyed, animals are displaced, slaughtered, or forced into human communities to be killed as pests.
For these reasons, most vegans avoid consuming palm oil unless it comes from certified organic farms that use sustainable farming methods.
Sadly, organic palm oil is rarely used in the commercial food industry, as it’s far more costly than non-organic palm oil. So, if you see that a certain restaurant uses palm oil to fry with, there’s a 99% chance that it’s non-organic.
Another big culprit that often causes French fries to be non-vegan is meat-derived seasoning. For example, McDonald’s fries are coated with a meat-derived seasoning designed to make their fries taste more savory.
This is one of the reasons why McDonald’s fries are widely viewed as the “best-tasting” fast-food fries in America.
These meat-derived seasonings typically combine animal fat with salt, pepper, and spices. They’re usually sprinkled on the fries before they’re fried, which means that they’re literally cooked into the fries.
Unlike other seasonings, which can often be excluded by asking your server to “hold the seasoning,” this meat seasoning can’t be avoided when it’s used.
This is also something to look out for when it comes to store-bought frozen French fries! They’re often pre-coated with meat-derived seasoning that can’t be removed. So double-check the ingredients labels before you decide on a certain brand.
Cooked Alongside Meat
Another thing you need to watch out for when you order fries from a restaurant is fries that are fried alongside meat. For example, some restaurants fry their chicken strips in the same vats of oil that they cook their fries in.
This means that pieces of meat could very well end up in your fries. You can usually tell because these fries will have a light meaty flavor.
Thankfully, this isn’t quite as common as it used to be.
Today, restaurants are more aware of the dietary and religious concerns of their customers. Some restaurants have even been sued for serving fries that have been cooked alongside meat violating religious rights!
Contain Meat-Derived Fats
This is very common in small local pubs and burger restaurants. To give the fries extra flavor and improve their texture, many restaurants may coat their French fries in lard. If you’ve never heard of it before, lard is just reduced animal fat.
When fries are coated in animal fat, they take on the flavors of the meat (usually pork or beef), which can give them a richer, more complex flavor. It also gives the fries a crispier texture, which crunch-addicted consumers love.
Needless to say, any fries that are coated with meat-derived fats or lard are non-vegan.
Last but not least, you may find that some restaurants or store-bought brands of French fries contain dairy derivatives, such as:
- Casein or Sodium Caseinate
These dairy products are often added to fries to enhance their texture. For example, when whey powder is added to the outside of fries, it gives them a smooth yet crispy texture that’s very similar to adding starch to the seasoning.
Dairy comes from exploited cows, most of which are horribly treated for their life and thrown away for meat the second they stop producing as much milk as the farm wants.
To sum it all up, here’s a brief table outlining the main things you need to look out for when buying French fries:
|Non-Vegan Additives in French Fries||Why They’re A Problem|
|Palm Oil||It’s unsustainable, as it contributes to deforestation and has driven many animals to the edge of extinction.|
|Meat-Derived Seasoning||These seasonings are made with meat broth or meat fatty extracts. This means that you’re consuming meat along with your fries.|
|Lard or Meat Fat||Some fries are coated with pork or beef fat to enhance the flavor. This, unfortunately, makes them non-vegan, as you’re consuming meat.|
|Cooked Alongside Meat||Some restaurants fry the meat in the same vat that their fries are cooked in. This means that your otherwise vegan fries could contain meat.|
|Dairy Derivatives||Some brands of fries contain whey or milk derivatives that are used in seasonings to add texture.|
What Are French Fries Made Of? Simple Ingredients
Now that you know some of the main culprits behind French fries being non-vegan, it’s time to take a look at what French fries should be made with! As I mentioned, French fries are usually vegan, as long as the traditional recipe is followed.
So, here’s the simple recipe that vegan French fries should follow.
Potatoes are the main ingredient in French fries. Before they’re fried, they’re typically boiled, steamed, or blanched (submerged in water overnight) to soften them. The potatoes are then skinned before being sliced into thin strips.
Potatoes are not only vegan but are also fairly healthy as well!
Potatoes are an excellent source of dietary fiber, which makes them both filling and great for your digestion. The more fiber you consume, the quicker your body can get rid of toxins, thus reducing your risk of colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disorders.
Additionally, potatoes are full of healthy antioxidants, which can boost your immune system and slow the effects of aging on your body.
2) Vegetable Oil
Traditionally, all French fries are deep-fried in vegetable oil. Although it’s not all that healthy, most vegetable oils (other than palm oil) are vegan-friendly, as they’re all plant-based.
That being said, some French fries are cooked in an air fryer or baked in an oven. Air-fried and oven-baked fries are far healthier than fries deep-fried in oil, as they contain less saturated fat and fewer empty calories.
Last but not least, French fries are usually lightly seasoned with salt. Other popular seasonings include:
- Dried rosemary
- Black pepper
- Old bay seasoning
- Garlic & onion powder
As long as you aren’t using any meat-derived seasoning, then they’ll be 100% vegan!
Are Sweet Potato Fries Vegan?
Sweet potato fries are almost always vegan! The only difference between regular and sweet potato fries is that the latter is made with orange sweet potatoes.
That being said, sweet potato fries are just as likely to contain some of the non-vegan additives that I described above. So, if you’re ordering at a restaurant, just be sure that they use a vegan-friendly recipe!
Is Ketchup Vegan?
Ketchup is, by far, the most popular sauce to dip fries in. While most ketchup recipes are generally considered vegan, some recipes may contain honey, which is not vegan.
I suggest looking for an organic ketchup brand that’s made with organic unrefined cane sugar instead of processed white sugar.
The Verdict – Are French Fries Vegan-Friendly?
French fries are almost always vegan-friendly, as they’re just fried potatoes. However, you should always be on the lookout for non-vegan fries that are seasoned with meat, cooked in animal fat, or contain dairy derivatives.
One of the few fast-food restaurants that’s always been a reliable place to find vegan fries is Chick-Fil-A. Keep on reading to learn why Chick-Fil-A is my favorite place to find vegan fries!