But despite churning out trillions of fries for the billions of people served, you won't find sweet potato fries at McDonald's. . . yet. Back in the 1940s when Idaho entrepreneur J.R. Simplot, invented the frozen french fry and changed the potato market forever, I bet he never figured on the changing tastes of consumers. Perhaps we just want something different—something sweeter or something brightly colored. Maybe it's that we want our fried foods to have some redeeming characteristics, like high fiber content and buckets of vitamin A.
The difficulty is that sweet potatoes and yams tend to be irregular in almost every aspect. When I pick through the pile at Winco, it doesn't matter whether I'm cooking for myself or for the whole neighborhood—I only need one yam. Also, their color isn't uniform, even within the same tuber, and their shape resembles everything from a croissant to a weasel. These features mean it takes extra labor to prepare them for processing, and even then traditional potato-cutting machines can't always make good fries out of true oddballs.
Enter ConAgra Foods, Inc. WSJ reports that the food industry giant is collaborating with scientists to redesign the sweet potato through selective breeding. ConAgra is also in the process of building a multi-million dollar sweet potato processing plant, thought to be the first of its kind in this country. It might be five or six years before the russet begins to surrender its market share, but I'll be the first one to take a bite out of traditional French fry profits.