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FOOD & DRINK

Why in the land of haute cuisine, do the French have such an appetite for pizza?

The French regularly challenge Americans as the world's biggest scoffers of pizzas but why in the land of haute cuisine and great gastronomy do they eat so much of it? Here are a few reasons.

Why in the land of haute cuisine, do the French have such an appetite for pizza?
Photo: AFP

Ever noticed how much the French love pizza? The pizzerias, the food trucks, the take away joints (not to mention the pizzas in the supermarket aisles) are everywhere in France, a country that has so much of its own fine cuisine.

A look at the numbers reveals just how much the French love their pizza.

In 2015 the French ate a stomach-churning 819 million pizzas – that's around 26 per second each year. That's ten million more than the 809 million they scoffed in 2014. 

To put the French appetite for pizzas in context, they scoff around 10kg of pizza per head every year, that's enough to put them second in the world league table, just behind the 13kg of pizza digested by Americans each year. And the French are well ahead of the Italians, the inventors of pizza, who were in 10th place for eating 5kg on average per person each year.

Some 96 percent of French people declare a love for pizza – their favourie being the Reine – (tomato sauce, ham, cheese and mushrooms) followed by the margherita and 84 percent order pizzas at home.

There are some 13,000 pizzerias in France and 5,000 pizza food trucks. Not to mention the automatic pizza dispensers (see below) that are dotted around the country that means the French can satisfy their pizza appetite at all hours of the night.

Here are at least a few reasons why the French are so ready to forgo any other meal and grab a slice.

Comfort eating

Pizza is the number one comfort food for the French according to a 2018 Harris Interactive survey. The study states more than 8 out of 10 French people eat to comfort themselves when they feel depressed. Of those 8 out of 10, 34 percent said pizza is their go-to dish to ease the blues. Hamburgers and fries come in a close second at 28 percent, followed by pasta at 25 percent.

A contrast

It’s official, the French take the most time eating and drinking compared to other countries a new survey revealed.

So if it's the norm is to sit down, and spend hours chatting and slowly eating every bite, grabbing a pizza and throwing it in the oven might sound pretty tempting every once in a while. In other words pizza is a switch from the usual Gallic dining routine.

Bernard Boutboul, director of Gira Conseil, believes one of the reasons the French love pizza is because it contrasts to the traditional meal time setting French people are used to.

But pizza also fits in perfectly well with another French trait, he said.

“It's a dish which you share, which fits in with our culture based on conviviality,” Boutboul explained, adding that dough or bread-based foods topped with a choice of ingredients “always work very well”.

It's cheap

While eating out is not necessarily overly expensive in France, even in Paris, there's no doubt that pizza is generally a cheaper option and attractive to those on a tight budget. 

The average price of a pizza in France is €6.15, according to a 2017 Gira Conseil study, which means you get to be full and have a tasty meal. That price takes into account the price of pizzas sold in supermarkets as well as those in restaurants.

In recent years France has seen a real price war for takeaway pizzas with the average price falling from €12 to €10 in just the last year.

It’s a long-term relationship

Carole Saturno, a journalist and cookbook writer in Paris explained to The Local the success of Italian cuisine in general in France.

Referring to research by Paris-based academic Daniele Zappalà, geographer, who studied the Italian cuisine in France Saturno that over history Italian cuisine became popular in France with the increased trade and immigration.

So pizza has always been beloved in France, but overtime marketing has helped expand the popularity of the iconic Italian dish.

Luckily, France’s long and loving relationship with pizza has also lead to some mouthwatering pizzerias.

Saturno told The Local to visit Popine, Da Graziella and Il Brigante, and Pizzeria Popolare in Paris for the unbeatable value for money of the margherita.

(Photo: Bex Walton/Flickr)

It’s science, and it’s the cheese

According to the Yale Food Addiction Scale, pizza is at the very top of the addiction scale. And it's all because of the cheese.

The study found that the foods most likely to be associated with addictive eating behaviors were the more fatty, processed foods.

But cheese has a particular ingredient that makes it more addictive, a protein found in all milk products called casein.

This protein releases opiates called casomorphins during digestion, and casomorphins stimulate the dopamine receptors that eventually drive the addictive behavior.

And who eats the most cheese in the world? The French. France has the highest per capita consumption rate of cheese, with 26.8 kg of cheese consumed in 2015.

So having an addiction for fromage is naturally going to push the French towards ordering a cheese and tomato pizza.

by Courtney Anderson

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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