Reported associations between the consumption of fried foods and the incidence of obesity or weight gain make it likely that fried food consumption might also be associated with the development of hypertension. However, evidence from long-term prospective studies is scarce. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to longitudinally evaluate this association in a prospective cohort. The SUN (Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra) project is a Mediterranean cohort study of university graduates conducted in Spain, which started in December 1999 and is still ongoing. In the present study, we included 13 679 participants (5059 men and 8620 women), free of hypertension at baseline with a mean age of 36·5 (sd 10·8) years. Total fried food consumption was estimated at baseline. The outcome was the incidence of a medical diagnosis of self-reported hypertension during the follow-up period. To assess the association between the consumption of fried foods and the subsequent risk of developing incident hypertension during the follow-up period, Cox regression models were used. During a median follow-up period of 6·3 years, 1232 incident cases of hypertension were identified. After adjusting for potential confounders, the adjusted hazard ratios for developing hypertension were 1·18 (95 % CI 1·03, 1·36) and 1·21 (95 % CI 1·04, 1·41) for those consuming fried foods 2–4 and >4 times/week, respectively, compared with those consuming fried foods < 2 times/week (P for trend = 0·009). In conclusion, frequent consumption of fried foods at baseline was found to be associated with a higher risk of hypertension during the follow-up period in a Mediterranean cohort of university graduates.