Air fryers have become an increasingly popular kitchen appliance in recent years. Their ability to make “fried” foods like French fries using little to no oil has made them appealing to health-conscious consumers. But do air fryer fries really have fewer calories than traditional deep-fried fries? Let’s take a closer look.
How Air Fryers Work
Air fryers use rapid air circulation technology to cook food. A heating element and fan quickly circulate hot air around the food at high speed, essentially “frying” it using little to no oil. This allows food to get crispy and browned like deep-fried food, but without being fully submerged in oil.
Most air fryers require just a teaspoon or two of oil to cook French fries. The small amount of oil is used to coat the surface of the fries before air frying. Traditional deep-frying calls for submerging the fries fully in hot oil during cooking.
Calories in Air Fryer vs. Deep-Fried French Fries
Since air fryers use far less oil than traditional deep frying, air fryer fries end up having significantly fewer calories. Let’s compare calories in a typical serving of fries cooked two different ways:
- Deep-fried fries cooked in 3 cups of canola oil: 412 calories
- Air fried fries cooked with 1 tsp canola oil: 154 calories
As you can see, the air fried fries contain over 250 fewer calories than the deep-fried version. This massive difference in calories is simply due to less oil being used during cooking.
Factors that Influence Calories
There are a couple factors that impact the precise calorie counts of air fryer vs. deep-fried fries:
- Type of oil: The type of oil used affects calorie content. For example, olive oil has slightly more calories per teaspoon than canola oil.
- Exact oil amount: The more oil used in air frying, the higher the calorie count will be. Sticking to around 1 tsp per batch leads to the lowest calories.
- Potato type and preparation: Factors like potato variety, whether they’re fresh or frozen, and how thickly they’re cut affect calorie density.
- Serving size: The more fries that are cooked and consumed, the more calories there will be.
That said, air fryer fries made with minimal oil will always be lower in calories than heavily deep-fried fries. The difference in oil accounts for a calorie reduction of around 60-70%.
Nutritional Benefits of Air Frying
Beyond just calories, air frying French fries has other nutritional advantages over deep frying:
- Less fat: Air fryer fries get nearly all their fat from the small amount of cooking oil. Deep-fried fries absorb large amounts of oil, adding lots of fat.
- Less sodium: Some salt gets absorbed into deeply fried foods during cooking. Air fryer fries don’t absorb much salt from just a teaspoon of seasoning.
- More nutrients preserved: The intense heat of deep frying destroys some nutrients in potatoes. Air fryers use less intense heat, preserving more nutrients.
The minimal amount of oil used is really the biggest nutritional factor. With way less oil absorbed, air fried fries avoid all the excess calories, fat, and salt that come along with deep frying.
Taste and Texture Comparison
With improved health stats, how do air fryer fries compare taste and texture-wise to deep-fried fries? Here are some key differences:
- Crispiness: Air fryer fries get crispy and crunchy on the outside while staying soft inside. Deep-fried fries may be slightly crispier overall.
- Flavor: The flavor is largely the same, though some people can detect a subtle oilier taste from deep-fried fries.
- Color: Air fried fries are often golden brown but can look a bit paler than deep-fried ones.
- Texture: Air fryer fries are less likely to get overcooked and mushy since the cooking time is shorter.
Overall, air fryer fries can closely mimic the taste, crunch, and appearance of deep-fried fries. They may not be quite identical in flavor and texture, but they get very close. And any slightly poorer taste is largely outweighed by the big improvement in nutrition.
Tips for the Best Air Fried French Fries
If you want delicious air fryer fries that are as close to deep-fried as possible, follow these tips for success:
- Use starchy potatoes like Russets or Yukon Golds.
- Cut potatoes into even matchstick shapes for even cooking.
- Rinse potatoes after cutting to remove excess starch.
- Pat fries very dry before air frying for maximum crispiness.
- Toss fries with just 1-2 tsps oil before air frying.
- Cook at 400°F, flipping halfway through, until golden brown.
- Season immediately after cooking for best flavor and crunch.
With the right prep and cooking techniques, you can make air fryer fries that are nearly indistinguishable from deep-fried ones in taste, texture and appearance. They’ll be far lower in calories yet still totally satisfying.
Are Air Fryers Worth Buying Just for French Fries?
Considering how tasty and relatively healthy they are, air fryer fries may be reason enough for some people to purchase an air fryer. But these versatile appliances can also air fry many other foods like:
- Chicken wings and nuggets
- Fish fillets and shrimp
- Onion rings
- Veggie fritters
- Egg rolls
- Mozzarella sticks
An air fryer can replicate a lot of traditionally deep-fried foods with a fraction of the oil and calories. While fries may be the top motivator for buying one, an air fryer’s ability to make all kinds of crispy, crunchy foods in a healthier way provides plenty of justification for the purchase.
Benefits Beyond French Fries
Beyond fried foods, air fryers can also:
- Cook frozen foods like pizza rolls, nuggets, etc. Nice and crisp
- Reheat leftovers more quickly and evenly than microwaving
- Roast vegetables with a nice charred finish
- Bake small batches of foods like cookies or scones
- Make crispy bacon without the splatter and mess of frying
Their ability to cook a wide variety of foods with less oil, lower calories, and faster cook times make air fryers a versatile appliance. For those who enjoy French fries as well as other fried foods, air fryers can be a very worthy investment.
Healthiest French Fry Cooking Methods Ranked
If you’re looking for the healthiest way to make French fries at home, here are some common home cooking methods ranked from healthiest to least healthy:
- Baked – Fries are baked in the oven with no oil. Totally fat and calorie free.
- Air Fried – Just 1-2 tsps oil used. Significantly fewer calories than other cooking methods.
- Pan Fried – Cooked stovetop with a couple Tbsp oil. Moderate fat and calories.
- Deep Fried – Fully submerged in hot oil. Highest in calories and fat by far.
Baking fries requires no oil at all but can result in drier, less crispy fries. For the best texture and taste, air frying is the healthiest choice. With just a small amount of oil, you get all the delicious flavor and crunch of fried fries without all the excess calories and fat.
Pros and Cons of Air Fryer French Fries
Here’s a quick rundown of the main benefits and drawbacks of making French fries in an air fryer:
- Up to 70-80% fewer calories than deep fried
- Less unhealthy fat than other cooking methods
- Crispy, crunchy and browned exterior
- Tender, fluffy interior
- Mimics taste and texture of deep-fried
- Cooking process is fast and easy
- Minimal cleanup or risk of splatter/burns
- Need to buy an air fryer if you don’t already own one
- Fries may not be quite as crispy as deep-fried
- Fresh potatoes needed (no frozen fries)
- Requires prep of washing, peeling, and cutting potatoes
- Results depend on proper prep and cooking technique
Overall, the pros of tastier, healthier fries with less mess and risk of burns outweigh the cons of buying an appliance and needing to prep fresh potatoes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many calories are in air fryer French fries?
Air fryer French fries prepared with 1-2 teaspoons of oil have approximately 150 calories in a typical serving size (about 15-20 fries). This compares to over 400 calories in the same serving size of deep fried fries.
Do you have to put oil on air fryer fries?
It’s recommended to use a small amount (1-2 tsp) of oil when making air fryer fries. Lightly coating the fries helps them get crispy and browned. You can try making them oil-free but they may not get as crunchy.
What’s the healthiest oil to use for air fryer fries?
The healthiest oils for air frying are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated oils like olive oil, avocado oil, peanut oil, or canola oil. Avoid oils high in saturated fat like coconut or palm oil.
How long and what temperature do you cook fries in an air fryer?
Cook air fryer fries at 400°F for 12-18 minutes, flipping halfway. Thicker fries take longer. Check frequently and remove when browned and crispy outside. The exact timing depends on the amount of fries and your air fryer model.
Do you have to peel potatoes for air fryer fries?
It’s best to peel potatoes when making air fryer fries. The peel can burn and turn bitter if not fully submerged in oil like in deep frying. Peeling helps ensure tender, flavorful fries.
The Bottom Line
Air fryers can produce delicious French fries that are nearly identical to deep-fried fries in taste, crunch, and appearance. But with a fraction of the oil, air fryer fries have significantly fewer calories and less unhealthy fat. For the healthiest and tastiest French fries cooked at home, an air fryer can’t be beat.