The Many, Many Ingredients That Are Packed Into McDonald's Fries

You might think (or at least hope) that the only ingredients needed for truly tasty french fries would be sliced potatoes and hot oil. But in the realm of fast food, it takes a little more than that short list to get the distinct flavor so many of us crave. Take, for example, McDonald's "World Famous Fries," as the chain calls them. A sprinkle of salt is not all that's needed to make them famous; in fact, it takes around a dozen ingredients to nail that unique flavor profile.

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The popularity of the chain's fries has made the Golden Arches a giant in the fast food industry; in fact, french fries are the brand's top-selling item across the world. McDonald's sells 9 million pounds of this side order daily, which equals almost 3.3 billion pounds a year. Wendy's even once ran a whole campaign in an attempt to dethrone McDonald's fries, touting a study in its commercials claiming people preferred its fries over McDonald's two to one. Although Wendy's never released details regarding the study, a representative told The Takeout that the results came from a national taste test conducted by a third-party research company. 

Per the nutritional info listed on McDonald's website, the ingredients used to make its fries are: potatoes, vegetable oil (specifically canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, and "Natural Beef Flavor"), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (for color), and salt. The chain clarifies that what it refers to as Natural Beef Flavor "contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk as starting ingredients." Let's take a closer look at these McDonald's fry ingredients. 

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There's beef in McDonald's fries?

Right off the bat, the "Natural Beef Flavor" in the ingredient list might stand out. McDonald's does actually have its potato suppliers partially fry its potatoes in blend of oil that has beef flavoring added to it. Unfortunately for vegans and vegetarians, this means McDonald's fries contain at least some degree of meat. They're also not gluten-free because of the hydrolyzed wheat used in the Natural Beef Flavor.

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McDonald's original recipe for its french fries included frying the cut spuds in beef tallow. Beef tallow is rendered beef fat similar to lard in cooking terms. Those who experienced that original recipe praise it as the best in the game and credit the beef tallow as what kept the fries crispy, unlike the somewhat limp texture Wendy's called out in its campaign about McDonald's current recipe. 

However, in 1990, the public had become concerned with a rise in the prevalence of obesity in America, and a demand for "healthier" foods increased. McDonald's senior vice president at the time went on "Good Morning America" and was called out by a popular health advocate for the beef tallow in the brand's recipe. In response to public concern and to its leadership being called out on national television, McDonald's chose to change its recipe, exchanging beef tallow for vegetable oil. In retrospect, this only gave the appearance of a healthier recipe, and McDonald's has had to continue to tweak its french fries over the years to reduce the trans fats introduced by the change to vegetable oil. 

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What else is in McDonald's french fries?

A lot of the prep work that goes into making the brand's fries is done by its potato suppliers. McDonald's suppliers peel, cut, blanche, dry, and partially fry the potatoes before freezing and sending them off to locations of the chain. The chain's suppliers include both larger farm operations like 100 Circle Farms and singular potato farmers. McDonald's uses varying types of potatoes for its fries including Russet Burbank, Russet Ranger, Umatilla Russet, and Shepody. While McDonald's fries, by default, are salted after frying, you can also ask for them without salt.

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McDonald's ingredients list also notes the use of sodium acid pyrophosphate for color maintenance. If you've ever sliced a potato, you know they do not look like the golden shoe strings McDonald's serves at its restaurants. When the potatoes are cut and exposed to oxygen, this causes discoloration, so McDonald's suppliers use this ingredient to prevent that process and maintain the fresh golden color we all know. This ingredient also helps maintains the potatoes' texture as they're fried.

It may not be fun to know my McDonald's fries are swimming in "Natural Beef Flavoring", but will it stop me from ordering them alongside a Double Cheeseburger? Probably not.

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