Fritters are a mixture of different ingredients which are covered with batter, then deep-fried. "Fritter" derives from the Latin word frictura which translates as fried or to fry. Any ingredient dipped in batter and fried can essentially be a fritter, though it may not always be called so. Though we may be most accustomed to apple or banana fritters, it’s not unusual to have a fritter made from meat, like deep fried fish, or made from vegetables. In fact, vegetarian tempura is essentially vegetables dipped in batter and quickly fried, thus it certainly could be defined as vegetable fritters.
Food may be either dipped in batter, or mixed with batters. The American apple fritter, often sold with donuts, is a mix of cake batter and chopped apples. Clam or crab cakes could also be considered fritters, as could potato latkes, a mix of shredded potatoes, egg, and seasonings. Sometimes batter itself is fried with no other ingredients. These are also essentially fritters. A donut made from batter could be called a fritter, as could funnel cake.
You can really use your imagination when it comes to fritter ingredients, but the most important thing is knowing how to properly deep fry food. Oil that is too cold when food is added will impart an oily, greasy taste, which is undesirable. Too hot oil can also cause less then perfect fritters or burned ones. Electric deep fryers with controllable temperature settings often take the guesswork out of deep-frying, though for experienced cooks, a simple temperature gauge and a sense of how the oil appears and smells is often enough information to produce perfectly fried food.
Virtually any place in the world where people deep fry food will have its own types of fritters. In the UK for instance, you can order a mushy pea fritter as standard pub grub. Many Asian countries make banana fritters, and these are equally popular in France where they may be served with a lemon sauce. Malaysian cooks make deep fried yams and sweet potatoes, which are popular and sold in stands in urban areas. In the US, you’ll find a variety of fritter types, though apple seems to be the most common.
One of the great culinary questions is what a fritter really is. Is it a cake, a doughnut or a pastry? The deep-frying suggests its close association to doughnuts, especially to beignets and cake donuts. On the other hand, a fritter can be very crispy, suggesting it is better classed as a pastry. Regardless of where you come down on this argument, there’s no doubt that the fritter is one of the tastier and most popular foods in many parts of the world.