It’s a common misconception that french fries hail from France. So much so that when France opposed the Iraq war, the U.S. renamed the fast-food snack “freedom fries.” According to Frenchly, french fries originated in modern-day Belgium in the late 1600s. The story goes that french fries were invented in the Meuse Valley after the rivers froze in winter, preventing fishing. As National Geographic notes, the locals cut up potatoes into strips and fried them when they didn’t have fish to cook up.
As the Farmers’ Almanac explains, potatoes didn’t become popular in France until an army medical officer named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier encouraged the country to reconsider the vegetable after eating a bunch while a prisoner of war. Up until the 1770s, the French believed potatoes were not suitable for human consumption, but Parmentier, who knew otherwise, convinced the government to lift their ban against the starchy crop.
It’s unclear how french fries got their name. As Frenchly shares, there’s one theory that American World War I soldiers dubbed the snack french fries after discovering it in southern Belgium where the language is predominantly French. This story is unlikely to be correct, however, because as the outlet notes, Thomas Jefferson was apparently already asking for his potatoes to be styled “in the French manner” in 1802. In fact, the president is credited with introducing french fries to the U.S. after serving as the American Minister to France from 1784 to 1789.