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Love it or hate it, fry sauce reigns in Idaho

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For many in southern Idaho, french fries are prettiest in pink. For others, the very thought is revolting.

It’s the great fry sauce debate. And love it or hate it, one thing is certain: “It’s so much a part of french fries here,” said Twin Falls resident Sherry Rust.

“I can’t remember not enjoying fry sauce,” added Rust, 57, who recently retired from her work at the College of Southern Idaho’s Small Business Development Center. “It’s been a staple in Twin Falls for a long, long time.”

But it’s not for everyone.

Taking in lunch at Jerome’s Hilltop Bar and Grill, Jerome resident Lance Tolle, 25, didn’t once reach for the bottle of pink sauce.

“I just don’t care for it,” said Tolle. “I don’t like the taste.”

The Washington transplant sticks to salt and pepper on his fries. “I didn’t know what fry sauce was until I moved to Idaho,” Tolle said.

That’s true for most who live outside of Idaho, Utah and a few other Western states. Most Americans dunk their fries in ketchup. In Europe, mayonnaise is the condiment of choice. But in the Gem State, fry sauce serves up the best of both worlds. The basic recipe for the sauce is simple: one part ketchup to two parts mayonnaise.

But that’s only the beginning. Barbecue sauce can replace ketchup, while myriad other spices or flavors — mustard, pickle juice, horseradish — can be added to make one sauce stand above another.

“It’s a richer taste than just tomatoey ketchup,” said Rust, who once tried to convince a friend from Great Britain to try Idaho’s dipping delicacy.

“He couldn’t stand it,” she recalled. “He said, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s nasty.’”

Tolle agrees with that sentiment, and no amount of convincing will get him to give fry sauce a second chance.

“It’s been so long since I tasted it,” he said. “I don’t see myself ever trying it again.”

The only thing debated as hotly as fry sauce’s taste merits is its origin.

The Utah-based Arctic Circle restaurant chain claims to have invented fry sauce around 1948. But some argue Arctic Circle borrowed the idea from another Utah restaurant or picked it up from a customer who combined his own ketchup and mayonnaise.

“Our Original Fry Sauce — a tasty, tangy mixture of tomato concentrate, lemon juice, eggs and a whole bunch of other ingredients — stands out as the most imitated, and also the least duplicated,” Arctic Circle says on its Web site. “Ever since we invented fry sauce more than 50 years ago, we’ve carefully guarded the original secret recipe.”

No matter where it started, fry sauce continues to grow in popularity. For Rust, the tradition started as a child when her family would cut and deep-fry its own spuds and mix its own sauce.

Rust’s current diet precludes indulging in either fries or fry sauce.

“I’m going to have to go to AA meeting for fry sauce,” she joked.


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