The Surprising Reason Potatoes Were Once Illegal In France

It would be impossible to comprehend life without the overwhelming joy of french fries. Oozing with salty goodness, the thin slivers of beautifully fried potatoes provide immeasurable comfort to resolve almost any craving or feeling.

While the exact origin of french fries is disputed, as their name suggests, there's a strong belief that they were born in France. According to BBC Travel, advocates of the true french fry believe it stemmed from deep-fried potatoes called "pomme Pont-Neuf" that were sold by Paris street sellers in the 18th century. However, deep distrust of the humble potato in the 1700s could have stopped french fries from ever being invented.

Even though potatoes are now a staple part of many diets, French people of the 18th century viewed the brown, lumpy vegetables grown underground with a mighty amount of suspicion. In fact, worry over the possible side effects of potatoes, like leprosy, caused them to be banned in France for more than two decades (via The Connexion).

Fears of ill health led to France banning potatoes in the 18th century

Smithsonian Magazine explains that potatoes were first popularized by Spanish travelers in the 1500s, who exported them to countries including the U.K. and France. Although scientists appreciated the nutritional value of potatoes, along with the fact that they could be grown in harsh environments, the general public was far from convinced of their power (via Los Angeles Times).

Potatoes were consequently crushed by the rampant spread of fake news. The Los Angeles Times notes that people believed spuds were unsafe to eat because they didn't appear in the Bible and were eventually thought to be components of witchcraft. Combined with the fear that the gnarled appearance of potatoes spread disease, growing them was banned by French officials in 1748 (via The Connexion).

The reputation of potatoes was saved by the diligent actions of French scientist and soldier Antoine-Augustin Parmentier. The Los Angeles Times reports that while imprisoned in Prussia, Parmentier survived due to his diet of potatoes. He publicized their virtues when he returned to France, boosting their popularity. The Connexion confirms that the French potato ban was lifted in 1772.