The Future Of French Fries
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A potato company wants to update the french fry. The popular food is threatened by the trend toward fast-food delivery. French fries, you see, are really only good a few minutes out of the fryer, which is why that company wants to make a fry that lasts longer. Here's Sarah Gonzalez with NPR's Planet Money podcast.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
SARAH GONZALEZ: Wow. It really smells like potatoes in here.
Lamb Weston's potato innovation headquarters in Richland, Wash., is a place with potatoes everywhere - like, flying in tubes above my head.
DEBORAH DIHEL: So we're walking under potatoes right now, walking under...
GONZALEZ: These pipes - these pipes are carrying potatoes?
DIHEL: Yes. They're full of potatoes, like a monorail from Disneyland.
GONZALEZ: Deb Dihel is a food scientist here. They fry potatoes and then freeze them and sell them to restaurants and fast-food chains and grocery stores all over the world. And when Deb Dihel first saw people getting french fries delivered to them about five years ago in China before U.S. fast-food companies were partnering with delivery apps, she couldn't believe it.
DIHEL: This immediately got me nervous because I know how french fries are, and I know a lot about how long they last. So my fear was if people received cold or soggy or limp fries after they ordered them through a delivery service, they wouldn't order french fries again.
GONZALEZ: Deb starts envisioning a world without french fries and decides to reinvent the fry to stay warm and crispy for 30 minutes, up to 45 minutes, to encompass any situation the french fry might find itself in. And it's not the first time it's been done. When the U.S. started eating at drive-throughs, they had a similar concern.
DIHEL: Almost 20, 25 years ago, Lamb Weston invented a coating called Stealth, which was our secret coating that you couldn't see and you couldn't tell was on the french fry. But it was crispier longer, up to 12 to 15 minutes.
GONZALEZ: Stealth french fries to survive the drive-through. Now Deb needs to survive delivery.
DIHEL: Water is the enemy for sure.
GONZALEZ: The water is in the middle of the fry. That's what makes it soft. But the water naturally migrates out, and that water is what makes the outside of the fry soggy.
DIHEL: So as a food scientist, our job is to figure out how do we keep the water where it's supposed to stay? Where's the water? What's causing it to move? How can we slow it down?
GONZALEZ: They started playing with some starches to create this wash that all the raw fries take a shower in. And they got some fries to stay good for 20 minutes, then 30 minutes, but the coating was too thick. You could see it, so it didn't feel like a regular fry. In another batch, the fries were too tough. It took two years of tinkering with the formula to get it - a 30 to 45 minute lasting good french fry.
(SOUNDBITE OF OIL BUBBLING)
GONZALEZ: And these are them bubbling in hot oil.
And what is this called?
DIHEL: Crispy on Delivery - short and sweet.
GONZALEZ: They shake them, salt them, and now I'm going to wait to see if they actually stay warm and crispy longer. So we're waiting 30 minutes, except obviously I can't wait.
A real 30 minutes later, I try them.
(SOUNDBITE OF CRUNCHING)
GONZALEZ: That was a good, crispy french fry.
The new fries are not in fast-food chains yet, but Deb Dihel says they could be in a couple months. You won't know it's a Crispy on Delivery fry just like you don't know when you're eating a Stealth fry. You'll just know you had a better french fry delivery experience. And they're hoping that keeps people ordering fries. Sarah Gonzalez, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.