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Healthy Fries?

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A group in Holland have created a low carb french fry which is healthier than a traditional fry.

Leon de Winter wasn’t impressed when his doctor told him he couldn’t eat french fries anymore. The Dutch writer had been diagnosed with diabetes and was put on a strict new diet — and french fries weren’t included.

The writer quickly decided he would find low carb fries, however his internet searches turned up zilch. That didn’t deter de Winter and he enlisted his cousin León Eisman, a cardiac doctor, for help.

The two started their research and discovered Dutch potato breeder HZPC was known internationally for its low carb potato varieties. HZPC had just released its line of Sunlite potatoes, which contained 30 per cent less calories than other potatoes, were naturally fat-free and low in sugar and sodium.

Aha, thought the Leons, they had found their solution. Alas, HZPC informed them their low carb potatoes could not be fried as they would burn on the outside. This didn’t deter the cousins and they took some home to experiment, and as they played around, they had an idea: What if you could put a coating on the potatoes which would allow them to fry?

Finally, a solution was found. “If you make a coating out of starch — a special potato starch — then you create a french fry that can be made in an air fryer. You make it without any fat and then you fry it and you can make really nice french fries,” Gerard Backx, CEO of HZPC, says in a Skype interview.

Gerard Backx
Gerard Backx, CEO of HZPC, standing in the greenhouses at HZPC’s research centre. Photo: HZPC

The coated fries were shiny and golden, smelled just like regular french fries, were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside — overall delicious, Backx says. Since they were made from HZPC’s Sunlite potatoes they also contained 30 per cent less calories, the fries were naturally fat-free and low in sugar and salt/sodium — thus making them acceptable for de Winter’s diet.

The new low carb fries solved a problem the french fry processing industry thought was impossible. Many had plunged money into research to find a low carb fry, but up until then none had been successful.

There’s always been a push to make fries healthier with a low carb version. Fries contain high glycemic levels, sodium and carbohydrates. People with diseases such as diabetes are usually told to follow a low carb diet to help manage their blood sugar levels, meaning fries aren’t allowed.

Leon&León fry bag
Leon&León’s low carb fries are only available in Dutch grocery store chain Albert Heijn so far. Photo: Leon&León fries

Fries have even been villainized in some respects. A 2017 study from The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found participants who ate fried potatoes two to three times a week were at a higher risk of mortality than those who ate unfried potatoes. Headlines covering the study called french fries a killer — so the idea to make a healthier version of a fry had merit.

Sales have been modest for HZPC’s low carb fry called Leon&León. The fries debuted in Dutch grocery store chain Albert Heijn in fall 2019 and so far, are only available there. While HZPC’s Sunlight potato varieties are available in Canada, Leon&León fries are not.

HZPC is currently making the fries in Holland, having partnered with a processor, but they are looking to license or sell the patent.

“Our interest is not to be a processor, our interest is to show what can be done with potatoes,” Backx says, adding HZPC is always interested in working on ways to show the versatility of potatoes as a food. Leon&León fries are “basically an idea that came from a few guys that didn’t know anything about potatoes and really wanted to achieve something.”