French fries are a universal favorite. It is normal to assume that the main ingredient in preparing fries is potatoes and oil to fry them. When vegans go to a restaurant that gives no vegan options, they often have to resort to some sort of salad or fries. Personally, as a vegetarian, there have been times when my friends order a chicken burger and I have the fries. Then from where does the question of “are McDonald’s fries vegetarian” come?! This is because of McDonald’s!
Are McDonald’s fries vegetarian?
The plain answer is – NO, Mcdonald’s fries are not vegetarian in the United States. It is worth noting that McDonald’s outlets in the UK and India do provide you with vegetarian fries. But in the US, fries are still non-vegetarian.
Initially, McDonald cooked their fries in animal fat. Commonly the beef tallow was used, i.e, beef fat was used as an oil to fry the french fries. In the 1990s this recipe was changed and vegetable oil was used for frying. This however led to complaints from customers that the fries did not taste great anymore. To overcome this, McDonald started to add natural beef flavor to the fries and still does it to this day.
If you visit their website, French Fries ingredients are listed as :
Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [Wheat And Milk Derivatives]*), Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (maintain Color), Salt. *natural Beef Flavor Contains Hydrolyzed Wheat And Hydrolyzed Milk As Starting Ingredients. ( Reference: https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/product/small-french-fries.html)
So the fries are neither vegetarian nor vegan!
The reason for Mcdonalds to switch the recipe in 1990
When McDonald first launched, they used beef tallow traditionally in their fries. It was responsible for the classic taste. A man named Phil Sokolof had a heart attack in 1966 and started to rally against fast-food chains and their unhealthy meals that contributed to high cholesterol and fats. Finally in 1990, due to his rigorous campaign and health concerns, McDonald’s switched to vegetable oil and claimed that their fries were healthier now. Alas! customers did not like this change and McDonald’s stock went down. The fries had lost their signature taste.
Mcdonald’s decided to salvage the recipe
To solve the problems associated with the taste of the fries, natural beef flavoring was added to the oil during the pre-frying stage in the production process. This mimicked the original flavor of the fries. They stopped using animal fat at the outlets and used varying non-hydrogenated oils either themselves or as a mixture. One story of note here is the 2001 lawsuit against McDonald that was filed by Hindus. Hindus consider cow a sacred species and thus do not consume them in any way. When the company claimed to have switched over to vegetable oil, customers assumed that beef was out of the picture.
This was considered to be a form of deceit on the company’s part since they weren’t transparent about the beef flavoring that was added before the spuds reached the outlets. Vegetarians and vegans came in support of the lawsuit and were appalled at having indirectly consumed animal fat.
McDonald admitted to the beef flavoring in their fries and settled the lawsuit for 10 million dollars – out of which 6 million went to vegetarian organizations
When asked particularly, Mcdonalds will tell you that their fries are not suitable for vegetarians or vegans. The natural beef flavor is said to contain hydrolyzed milk which makes it unsuitable for vegans. The other contents of this flavoring are currently unknown.
The latest news that is exciting for all vegans is the McPlant burger will be launching in San Francisco and Dallas-Fort Worth very soon. It is a plant-based burger and you can read more about it on their website. Although this is a small step, it is a step toward having more vegan and vegetarian options on the Mcdonald’s menu.
Frequently asked questions
- Are these fries healthy now?
The Fries are in and out of hot oil twice in the course of preparation. The vegetable oil contains trans fat – which is not good for the health of an individual
- Is anything at Mcdonald’s vegetarian?
There are vegetarian options in the form of Fruit and Yogurt Parfait, Side-salads, Fruit and Maple Oatmeal, Smoothies, and some baked dessert items (baked apple pie and chocolate chip cookies ). Instead of fries, you have the option of apple slices.
- What about Vegan options in Mcdonalds?
As of now, vegan options are very sparse. The fruit and maple oatmeal, side salad, apple slice, baked apple pie, vegan-friendly drinks like slushies are your only options.
- Are McDonald’s fries real potatoes?
Yes, McDonald’s uses real potatoes to make their world-famous fries. It starts with Russet Burbank or Shepody potatoes.