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FOOD & DRINK

The French food you love but should really steer clear of

Life in France is full of culinary joys. But unfortunately for Gallic grub lovers, science has come along to ruin the fun for a lot of your favourite French foods.

The French food you love but should really steer clear of
Photo: Alpha/Flickr

Charcuterie

Tucking into a “planche mixte” – a board of various processed meats and cheeses (fromage and charcuterie) – is one of the highlights of French dining.

But a warning from the French national agency of food and health safety ANSES might put you off that last bit of saucisson. 

They recently stressed the “necessity to considerably reduce” French consumption of charcuterie, such as jambon, saucisson and bacon which were all deemed to have carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties, by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2015.

Photo: Shari's Berries/Flickr

Foie Gras

Although the controversial French liver paté has a low carb-content, this doesn't necessarily mean you should be spreading it over every meal.

Around 85 percent of the calories that foie gras does contain are from fat, reports the Medical Daily.

The process of force-feeding the duck or goose also leads to an excessive amount of amyloids (protein deposits) in the liver that researchers have linked to the disease amyloidosis.

Nutella Crêpe

Let's be honest, no one buying a Nutella crêpe is thinking its going to be one of their five fruit and veg a day, but aside from the obvious sugar and fat involved, the-on-the go treat might have some nasty surprises. 

At the start of 2017 the maker of Nutella was embroiled in a row over the use of palm oil in its famous chocolate spread.

According to food authorities such as European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) palm oil was potentially carcinogenic once refined, compared to other vegetable oils.

But don’t boycott your crêpe stand just yet, the EFSA is yet to recommend not eating it.

Photo: snowpea&bokchoi

Steak Frites

The French may be less inclined to pick this restaurant classic of steak and chips now that ANSES have recommended eating no more than 500g of red meat a week, or perhaps after a 2015 WHO study linked red meat to an increased risk in developing cancers.

The “frites” are also likely to have been fried in saturated fats which we all know aren’t great for our health either.

Baguette

It’s not only the French fondness for cigarettes that could increase your risk of lung cancer, but also the French baguette.

A comprehensive American study found in 2016 that eating foods with a high glycemic index (that raise blood sugar levels quickly) could lead to a 49 percent increase in one’s risk of developing lung cancer.

The high sugar levels that come from eating refined carbs can cause an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and weight gain from the surplus of blood sugar that can go unused.

Photo: pauljill/Flickr 

Quiche Lorraine

Filled with cream, milk and cheese, quiche is bursting with of dairy fat.

Unfortunately for fans of picking up a quiche or two at the boulangerie, dairy fats are worse than vegetable, polyunsaturated fats or whole grains for heart disease risk, according to the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. 

Meanwhile processed bacon lardons, typical of the quiche Lorraine, are on many health organizations’ hit lists as containing potential carcinogenic contaminants.

Quiche Lorraine (seen here with spinach). Photo: Tamorlan/WikiCommons

Croque Monsieur

The cheap and cheerful café staple might not leave your doctor so happy.  

White bread has a high glycemic index, which according to the Harvard Public School of health can increase your risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. 

Ham is also one of the foods that ANSES recommended the French to eat less of, while melted cheese can be high in cholesterol and sodium. So all round not one for every day snacking. 

Photo: Pauline Mak/Flickr

Wine (and beer, and spirits…)

With the availability of cheap wines in France and the abundance of bars and cafes, it's easy to get carried away with the variety of French tipples. 

In 2015, France was the second biggest nation of wine drinkers (it was pipped to the post by the US). 

Although links between red wine and healthy hearts are often cited, usually while swilling a glass of Bordeaux, this has only been found to be significant for women over 55 who drink very little. If that's you then good news!

While obviously not everyone who drinks will develop cancer. But whether it's wine, beer, a little or lot alcohol is one of the most well established causes of several types of cancer and cutting down can reduce your risk. 

Raclette and fondue

Sales of soft “made to melt” cheese was a €202 million market in 2015. And France's appetite for the melted cheese dish raclette has been more avid than ever in recent years, growing at a 40 percent rate in between 2011 and 2015. 

Some argue that cheese can have health benefits, but of plateful of the stuff, usually served with charcuterie and meats (see above) is undoubtedly not something that should be enjoyed on a regular basis. 

Raclette. Photo: Varaine/WikiCommons

Le fast food

Your eyes aren't deceiving you, we really are putting fast food on this list. 

France is the second most profitable market in the world for McDonald's, more French people scoff Big Macs per head than any other country outside of the US. 

The French are also world champions of pizza eating, matched only by the US, consuming a whopping 819 million pizzas in 2015.

Although fast food as a treat every now and again won't kill you, thinking back to the film Supersize Me should be enough of a reminder to anyone of the stomach-churning effects over a long period of time.  

Photo: AFP

Of course, no one's telling you not enjoy all of these as treats, but perhaps think twice about having that daily croque monsieur. 

By Lauren Belcher

For members

FOOD & DRINK

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

From home-made to made in France, organic to artisan, AOP to Red Label - French food and drink products have a bewildering array of different labels and quality marks - here's what they all mean.

Bio, artisan and red label: What do French food and drink labels really mean?

In France, there are many different types of étiquette to be aware of when purchasing food, drink or other products. However, this étiquette does not have to do with behaviour – rather it is the French word for label or sticker that might designate certain properties about an item being purchased.

Here are some that you might run into while shopping in France:

Wines and other beverages

French wine often has several different designations and labels that you might come across. In France, wine is labelled based on region rather than grape.

Cru – the word “cru” – translated as ‘growth’ – on a wine label signifies that it was grown in high-quality vineyard or growing site, and provides further proof to where the wine was produced. 

Vin Bio – this designates a product, and in this case, wine as being organic. You will also find a bio (pronounced bee-yo) section of fruit and veg in most French supermarkets as well as plenty of other products with a bio label. Most towns and communes regularly host a marché bio –  a market where all the products on sale are organic.

Here is an example of what the label looks like:

Photo Credit: Economie.Gouv.Fr

To be certified as bio, producers must follow a set of EU specifications around how products are grown, which limit the use of chemicals such as fertilisers, pesticides and weedkillers. The bio brand is a protected mark.

Vin natural – While bio refers to how the grapes are grown, ‘natural wines’ refers to the process of turning the grapes into wine.  

This is more vague than organic as there isn’t an agreed set of standards for what constitutes a ‘natural wine’. Producers label their bottles vin méthode nature (natural wine method) but you’ll also frequently see and hear vin naturel or vin nature to describe these products. In general, it means a wine that has no additives used during the wine-making process and no or few added sulphites, which can mean that natural wines taste different.

Not all organic wines are natural and not all natural wines are made with organic grapes, although the two tend to go together.

Vin biodynamique – Growers who embrace the biodynamic method go a step further and as well as cutting out chemicals they also plant and harvest their crop according to the lunar calendar.

Biodynamic isn’t a protected mark and a biodynamic wine isn’t necessarily organic or natural, but vine growers who go to the trouble of following the lunar calendar are generally pretty committed to producing their product in a more natural way. 

Champagne (capital C) – The sparkling wine known as Champagne can only be produced in the French Champagne region, otherwise it’s just sparkling wine. In fact, the Champagne industry has a skilled team of lawyers tasked with insuring that the name “Champagne” is not being used inappropriately or incorrectly. Champagne is a famous example of the French AOC (more on this below).

READ MORE: ‘The price of glory’ – Meet the Champagne industry lawyers charged with protecting the brand name

Geographic designations and traditional techniques

In France, there are three different labels that determine where a product comes from and whether it was made according to certain traditional standards.

L’Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) – This designation can either indicate that a product comes from a specific geographical area or that it was produced following a certain traditional technique. Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body.

You can see an example of the label below:

Photo Credit: www.economie.gouv.fr

The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

It is worth keeping in mind that simply being considered an AOC product does not necessarily mean that the quality will be better than a non-AOC product, as it is focused on either geographical location or technique used when cultivating the product. The AOC designation is typically applied to certain wines and cheeses, though it can be extended to other products too.

READ MORE: What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) – the European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

The two labels are pretty much the same, but the AOC is French and older, while the AOP is recognised on a European level. 

In most cases, in order to apply for AOP designation, the product must already have an AOC recognition at the national level and then it is later registered with the European Commission. 

For France, the AOP concerns certain dairy products – specifically, 45 cheeses, 3 butters, and 2 creams – other foods like “Grenoble walnuts” are also listed as AOPs.

As for non French products, Gorgonzola cheese is an example of an Italian AOP.

La Spécialité Traditionnelle Garantie (STG) – In English this would be referred to as the “Traditional Speciality Guarantee”. This is another European-wide label. It attests that a food product has been manufactured according to a recipe considered traditional.

The first French STG was “Bouchot mussels” which are collected using a traditional aquaculture technique. 

Quality labels

Label rouge – This French label allows you to identify superior quality products. It has been in existence for over 60 years – according to the French ministry of economy, Landes chicken was the first food product to be awarded the label. Label rouge can be applied to food products as well as non-food agricultural products, such as Christmas trees or flowers.

For example, a Christmas tree might qualify for the Label rouge if it is: from the Nordmann or Spruce species, free from parasites (fungi and insects); fitting the proper aesthetic criteria for shape, colour, symmetry and density; and fresh – meaning cut down after November 21st.

Nutri-score – this five letter label designates food products based on their nutritional value. This is regulated by public health authorities. The logo is on packaging and ranges from A (dark green, most nutritious) to E (dark orange, least nutritious).

Artisanale – this is a protected “appellation” (title) that was created in 1998, and it regulates ‘craft’ products according to French law – the most common usages are for bakeries and breweries but it’s used for a wide range of products. 

People running the business must be able to prove a certain relevant education and qualification level and register with the trade organisation or guild for their craft.

For example, bakery owners must register the boulangerie with the Chambre des Métiers et de l’Artisanat and take a preparatory course.

Typically, artisan producers promise to use non-processed materials and they must also follow certain quality rules. For example, bread sold in these artisan boulangeries cannot have been frozen.

French bread and pastry designations

When buying your baguette at the boulangerie, there are some differences to be aware of.

Baguette Tradition – As suggested by the name, this designation means that the baguette was made using the traditional ingredients – only flour, yeast, salt and water. These were decided upon as part of the French government’s ‘bread decree’ of 1993. It also indicates that the baguette is free of any additives or preservatives. 

Baguette – A regular baguette could contain extra ingredients like grains, cereals or nuts – or any chemical additives or preservatives.

Boulanger de France – This label is relatively new in France – it was launched in 2020 in order to help differentiate artisinal bakeries from industrial ones. In order to obtain the label, then the bakery must respect certain quality regulations (eg. salt dosage used in bread, and specific recipes and manufacturing methods). Also, boulangers who apply for this label also commit themselves to favouring seasonal products.

Other French labels you might come across

Fait maison – this means ‘home made’ in French, and the logo for this type of dish looks like a little house.

You might see this label when at a restaurant or when buying food. In essence, it means that the dish was cooked on the spot. It also means that the dish was made with unprocessed ingredients, and that the only processed ingredients are those listed HERE.

Made in France (or Fabriqué en France) – It may be a bit misleading, but the label “Made in France” does not mean that 100 percent of the manufacturing steps for the product were carried out in France, but it signifies that a significant part were indeed done in France. This label is applied primarily to “consumer and capital goods”, but it can also be attributed to certain agricultural, food and cosmetic products, according to the French ministry of economy.

In order to qualify for this label, a part of the French customs body (Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes or DGCCRF) must authorise the label. If a product simply contains colours associated with France or a French flag, that does not necessarily mean it was entirely produced in France.

The penalties for falsely using a “Made in France” label, which are laid out in the French consumer code (article L. 132-2) are up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €300,000, which may be increased, depending on whether there were benefits derived from the offence.

Origine France Garantie – This label is awarded by the “Pro France association” to both  food and non-food products that can prove to have had the majority of manufacturing operations (at least 50 percent of its per unit cost) carried out in France and that the parts of the product that constitute its ‘essential characteristics’ were manufactured and produced in France.

Terre textile – This label attests that at least 75 percent of the textile product’s manufacturing was carried out in the French geographical area that it references – for example the label would indicate a part of France, like Alsace, and then below it would say “Terre textile”. 

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