Even the late Julia Child liked french fries. That would be the kind you got at McDonald’s. Thin crisp strips emerged from a deep fryer and were blanketed in a storm of salt. All this, of course, before trans fats became dirty words.
You hardly have to wonder what Child would have thought of french fries displaying the virtuous “0 trans fat” claims, spilled onto a baking sheet from frozen packages and browned in the oven. But that’s how many families eat fries, so we bought a bunch to see what’s inside the packets.
Seven people tasted five brands of crinkle-cut frozen french fries – and the news is not all bad. The fries come coated with vegetable oil and salt. We baked them at 450 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes. Some took longer to firm and crisp. First bites were naked (without ketchup). Second bites were dipped into everyone’s favorite red condiment.
All crinkles are not created equal. McCain brand had the deepest ridges, which seemed to help them crisp up better than ones with rounder, more Marilyn Monroe-like, curves. And for once, the pictures on the packages looked like the products inside.
The potato kings of the west, OreIda, were the big winners. “You can taste the potato,” exclaimed one in our group. On this brand, there were no claims of zero trans fat and indeed the company uses a mixture of vegetable oils, including the partially hydrogenated kind.
Do you have to be bad to be good?
Alexia Oven Crinkles
USDA Organic, no trans fat
$2 for 16 ounces
This brand has no artificial ingredients and won some accolades for taste, but had people crinkling their noses over the appearance: “These look like they crawled out of a sewer. Really soft and gooey, very potato-y, too. They seem the most natural and don’t seem like they have too many chemicals.” Looks affected others, too: “It doesn’t look appetizing, looks old, not golden brown. Can’t tell if black flakes are pepper or dirt; doesn’t taste like potato at all.” And yet another: “By appearance, I didn’t think I would like them, but they are great. Good consistency and flavor.” And this: “Best potato taste, but worst looks.” Finally: “Taste is very good as well as the texture; the most realistic.”
Goya French Fried Potatoes Crinkle Cut
$2.19 for 28 ounces
Seems that Goya knows something about beans but, according to this crew of tasters, they don’t know beans about potatoes. This got voted the least favorite by five out of seven. “Oh man, these look really fat and greasy, like I need a napkin to dry them. Not quite as salty as others and actually taste like potatoes. Can’t put my finger on it but there is some kind of weird aftertaste.” Could that be the sodium acid pyrophosphate used to preserve the natural color? More on looks: “Not as appealing to the eye. Off-white and flopsy. Oddly enough it smells like Chinese food.” Someone else had the same thought: “Too mushy and smells like Chinese food. Not crisp; tastes like compressed potatoes.” The final slap: “It would take a lot of ketchup to make these good.”
McCain Crinkle Cut French Fried Potatoes
0 grams trans fat, no cholesterol
$2.59 for 32 ounces
Beauty is skin deep in this case. These potatoes had deep-cut crinkles and were thinner than the other brands. “These look the prettiest in color and shape but when I picked it up it was limp and soggy. They don’t smell like anything that resembles a french fry.” Another took note of the oil: “Buttery, very attractive grease-catching crinkles.” On the plus side: “It looks great! Really crinkly! Good size and not too fat. It made me want to pick them up and eat them right away.” “Taste and texture good; perfect combination.”
OreIda Golden Crinkles French Fried Potatoes Winner
$2.99 for 32 ounces
Four of seven tasters chose this popular brand as the favorite. “Potato-y crisp texture, buttery, smooth and good color of golden orange.” “They smell like Tater Tots, but I guess that makes sense. Not too dry.” One taster looked at her paper plate and said this: “It’s pretty greasy so it looks kind of wet, and it’s staining my plate. But it does taste good!” “Looks a little greasy, but overall they have a nice golden-brown color. Certainly tastes pre-frozen.” “Good appearance, good consistency, too greasy.”
Stop & Shop Crinkle Cuts French Fried Potatoes
0 grams trans fat
$1.99 for 32 ounces
These thick crinkles have soft curvaceous edges, not as angular as the others. One taster decided this: “Looks like a caterpillar. These are very dense and stick in my throat. I could not eat these without something to wash them down. They are not very salty.” Another called for “water to wash them down, they were so dry.” But one said: “Rough texture, more fibrous but surprisingly adds to the taste. Nice color. The flavor grows on you. Nice smell. Not greasy.” Also this: “It did have a nice thick skin.” “Very tasty, seem seasoned. Texture is a bit fluffy.” “Like real fast food fries. Strong, not floppy, holds the ketchup well.” Finally: “I can’t tell that it was once a potato.”