Modern society’s desire for decadent foodstuffs delivered near instantly has, it’s fair to say, produced mixed results. For every Big Mac and Double Down, we’ve also had to put up with Bacon Sundaes and Hot Dog Bites pizza. However, for all fast food’s follies, it’s worth reminding ourselves that they have also given us some truly glorious inventions - some of which are now so integral to our foodie lives that we forget that they were once considered just as daft as a Croissant Taco. Here are a few of our favourite fast food innovations that have helped to shape modern comfort food.
The origin of the first French fry is a heated and oft-debated topic. Rumours abound about American soldiers in Belgium stumbling across traditional pommes frites, as well an account of a dinner hosted Thomas Jefferson featuring a recipe for "potatoes in the French manner". What is clear is that it was not until midway through the 20th century, when French fries were very much established as essential part of American culture, that one unsung and unknown hero hooked a potato up to a spiraliser and gave birth to the next step in potato evolution: the curly fry.
What sets the curly fry apart from its European forebear is the increased surface area for the liberal application of extra seasonings. While French fries are typically dressed with a smattering of salt and pepper, the curly fry takes you on a taste journey. Made famous by Arby’s in the 1960s, cayenne, garlic and paprika give the curly fry a completely different dimension. Now a staple of fast food menus across the world, the curly fry is the perfect way for anyone feeling especially adventurous to elevate a burger and chips. God bless spiralisers.
The daddy of all dishes featuring questionably assembled chicken body parts. Considering the multitude of malicious rumours that continue to circulate about their contents, there can be little doubt that very few other fast foods have seized hold of the public’s imagination as extensively as the humble nugget.
The first chicken nugget was not actually created with fast food in mind, but was instead the result of unpatented academic work by global chicken hero Professor Robert Baker. It was not until the 1970s when McDonald’s patented the recipe and the nugget went stratospheric. It’s impossible to go to any city around the world without having nuggets within easy reach. Were it not for Maccies, who knows how many souls would have been deprived of their (mostly) chickeny goodness. Some things don’t bear thinking about.
Fast food has not only transformed our diet, but also our culture. In the 20th Century, restaurants in America became popular local hangouts as well dining locations, and an integral component of this quintessential culinary experience was the milkshake. Originally coined as a term in the late 1800s, shakes were popularised by diners and lunch counters across the US. Originally advertised as an "alcoholic and healthful" eggnog-like whiskey drink, the shake as we know it today was pioneered by the early fast food industry. From Pulp Fiction to Kelis, milkshakes are now an inescapable fact of life.
With milk and ice cream the only essential components, the world of milkshakes is a realm of limitless possibility. Cookies, fruit, booze and biscuits can help a practised hand create something truly delicious. Shakes have now moved beyond their traditional home in the American diner and have spread to pig-out spots, stores and stalls the world over. Long live the all-conquering shake.
Our enduring obsession with fast food just goes to show the role the industry still plays in shaping the foodie landscape. With so many different restaurants in the fast food market, innovation is taking place at every turn. We can't wait to find out where and when the next big breakthrough will come.