You would think that french fries would be gluten free, right? They’re just made from potatoes, oil, and salt. Maybe a couple of seasonings. If they were just made from those ingredients, they would most definitely be gluten free.
But many times, they’re not.
There are actually a lot of places where gluten can sneak into french fries, unfortunately, making them both an easy option when you’re on the go and a major pitfall if you’re not careful.
First off, there’s the potatoes. Potatoes are absolutely gluten free. Unless they’re dragged in wheat flour (for added crispiness.) And yes, this does happen. That’s what gives waffle fries and curly fries their delightful crunch.
There’s also the question of whether they were prepared in a dedicated gluten-free facility or on shared equipment. Shared equipment is a whole other topic, but what it boils down to, is that gluten-containing ingredients may be processed in the equipment, and then the equipment is washed, before a new product is made on the same machines. Just with that, some people will react to gluten, and others will not, so you really need to know your tolerance.
That’s already two places where gluten could be in your french fries. But wait! There’s more!
The fries are ready to be fried golden, so you put them in hot oil. But! Has the oil been used to fry anything else? If you’re frying at home, you’ll be able to answer this question easily. If you’re eating at any kind of restaurant, though, the answer is not so clear. Take a look at the menu. Do they offer batter-fried dishes? This could look like fried chicken, onion rings, or battered fish filets. Or perhaps something where a gluten-containing item is deep fried, such as taquitos (made using flour tortillas) or deep fried Twinkies.
If any of those other things are cooked in the same oil as your fries–or even if they’re using fresh oil, but that fryer that wasn’t cleaned well between uses, there is a strong possibility that your fries will now be cross-contaminated. If you are unsure, you can always ask the restaurant if they have a dedicated gluten-free fryer.
But there’s still one or two more steps.
Let’s assume that your fries were made with only potatoes and prepared in a clean space, and fried in a dedicated fryer. Now they are seasoned. Are they seasoned with plain table salt or are herbs and spices being added? If it’s just salt, you’re good to go. Once you start adding herbs and spices, there’s another hurdle.
Some spice sellers use small amounts of flour to keep their spices from clumping. This is more prevalent in spice- and/or seasoning-mixes than in single in gredients, but this practice can be found anywhere. So if the seasonings added to the fries as they come out of the fryer–or added at your table–contain gluten, they are no longer gluten free.
And, of course, you’ll need to check your ketchup or preferred dipping sauce.
Happily, there are plenty of restaurants that offer gluten free french fries, which is really impressive, when you think about it. A word of caution, though: while a chain restaurant may have a particular policy regarding gluten, it will be up to the local management how well they enforce the policies. Which means that if a chain is known to be safe(ish), you’ll still want to enter each individual facility with caution until they’ve proven themselves.
All of this to say, yes! Absolutely, french fries are gluten free. Except for when they aren’t. But now you know all the places to check.
Who makes your favorite fries? Do you know if they’re gluten free? Tell me in the comments.
Stay strong and keep reading your labels!