Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan Or Vegetarian? What To Know

Mayank Kansal

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Small, Medium, and Large with Ketchup on side

If you ever been to a McDonald’s in the United States, you know their fries are some of the best tasting fries you can ever get.

I mean, just the mix of savory and crispy sensations together makes for a harmony of flavors in your mouth. Especially if you pair it up with some sauce and it is just mindblowing.

But for many people out there especially vegans or vegetarians, they are wondering if they can eat it or not. After all, you have to ask yourself: Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan or Vegetarian?

It’s a timeless question that many people have been thinking about, which is why we here at Food Senpai will go out and research exactly if McDonald’s Fries are Vegan, Vegetarian or Neither.

So if you’re ready, lets get started!

What Is A McDonald French Fry?

The french fries at McDonald’s, more often referred to as their World Famous Fries are essentially delicious, flavorful, crispy, and lightly salted thin strips of potatoes.

These fries are available in three different sizes: small, medium, and large.

Regardless of which size you purchase, McDonald’s french fries can be enjoyed with a delicious cheeseburger or sandwich, a refreshing beverage, or even by themselves as a snack!

In fact, depending on which McDonald’s is around you, you could even get the Fries in a special basket served to you! How cool is that?

What Are McDonald’s French Fries Made From?

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large, Medium, and Small displayed together

As you can imagine, the key ingredient needed to make those golden and crispy french fries are some of the best quality potatoes.

McDonald’s uses Russet Burbank, Russet Ranger, Umatilla Russet, and Shepody potatoes which begs the question, what is so special about these four potatoes?

The Russet potatoes have great texture which is ideal as it results in a soft and fluffy filling and a crispy golden brown exterior.

The Russet Ranger potatoes tend to develop a bit more sooner that the Burbank and therefore are available sooner for processing.

They still provide the same great taste both inside and on the skin like the Russet Burbank.

The Umatilla Russet potatoes are especially unique as they are relatively resistant to having internal brown spots and/or a hollow heart, which is just another way to describe the centermost portion of the potato that has a cavity.

Lastly you have the Shepody which are said to mature earlier than others and thus are ready to be picked sooner to be processed for frying.

What Oil Does McDonald’s Use To Make Their French Fries?

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large, Medium, and Small displayed together

It is a well known fact that from the 1950’s to 1990, McDonald’s used to use beef tallow in their fries.

The tallow which is just rendered fat, not only enhanced the flavor profile of the fries, but it was also much more cost effective for a business given the time frame.

Over the years the concerns regarding higher unsaturated fats in diets resulted in McDonald’s using 100% vegetable oils to fry their french fries.

Lastly in 2008 for another health initiative, they announced that all french fries served in the United States will have 0 grams of trans fat per serving.

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Medium, displayed with ketchup

McDonald’s uses a variety of vegetable oils such as canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil and hydrogenated soybean oil.

These oils are commonly used as they tend to have a higher smoke point. The smoke point is pretty much the temperature range at which the oil is resistant to heat.

Once you cross that temperature, the oil will not have a glistening appearance, rather it will start to burn and smoke, and ultimately mess up the flavor profile of whatever you are trying to cook.

I do not know about you, but I prefer my fries to be golden brown and crunchy and not burnt looking or tasting!

How Does McDonald’s Make Their French Fries In The United States?

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large, Medium, and Small displayed together

Besides the potatoes, there are few other ingredients that are used and each of those ingredients plays a crucial role in developing McDonald’s World Famous Fries! 

At first the suppliers are responsible for harvesting and selecting the best quality potatoes based on their shape and size. 

Those potatoes are then peeled and placed on a conveyor belt which eventually shoots them through high pressure water knives at 60 to 70 miles per hour! 

Once cut through the short waterblade cannon, the potatoes take the shape of the long skinny fries we love to eat. The potatoes are then blanched in a bath that includes two ingredients: Dextrose and Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate. 

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large displayed with ketchup

Dextrose helps the fries maintain a golden brown appearance once they are fried as opposed to turning into a dull color. 

Keep in mind the addition of dextrose is used during certain seasons as opposed to throughout the year, and it is never used to enhance the sweetness of the fries. 

Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate is commonly used in processed foods and ultimately it helps retain the color in a further step down the line. 

After being blanched in dextrose and Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, the potatoes are then dried and then they are partially fried, the first of the two frying steps. During this partial fry, they use an oil blend that contains “natural” beef flavoring. 

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Small Size with Ketchup

Next, the fries are immediately frozen to help maintain their texture and appearance. The freezing step can normally cause a discoloration but it does not thanks to the Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate which was added earlier. 

The frozen bags of fries are then shipped out to the thousands of McDonald’s retail stores within the United States. The fries are then deep fried for a second time in the McDonald restaurants and seasoned with salt before being served to customers. 

Are McDonald’s French Fries Vegetarian Or Vegan?

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Medium, Large, and Small displayed together

Earlier we had mentioned that in 1990, McDonald’s issued a statement that beef tallow was no longer being used in their french fries. 

This would have normally led to the assumption that McDonald’s french fries were safe to eat by vegetarian customers, but that turned out to be wrong which eventually led to a lawsuit for the use of beef flavoring in their fries. 

In 2002, McDonald’s had to pay 10 million dollars which was shared amongst multiple vegetarian and religious groups, and the individuals that filed the lawsuit. 

McDonald’s did mention in response to the lawsuit that it never made a statement or claims that their french fries were vegetarian or suitable for vegetarians. 

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large, Medium, and Small displayed together

However, the company did ultimately apologize for the beef flavoring in their fries and any confusion that may have been caused to vegetarians and individuals that do not eat beef for religious reasons. 

Now if you were to go onto McDonald’s website, a post from March 4th, 2021 clearly states the oil blend where the potatoes are partially fried contains beef flavoring which would definitely be a cause for concern. 

On another page however that is clarified as natural beef flavor. Most of us would immediately think that a natural flavor would come directly from the source, in this case that would be beef. 

Luckily thanks to science and technology, food scientists have been able to reverse engineer the beef flavor and now it is made from hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk. 

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large, Medium, and Small displayed together

That is a big sigh of relief for the vegetarian community, but at the same time there’s a conflict for the vegan community. 

Based on the information that is available so far from the way McDonald’s fries are processed in the United States, they are indeed vegetarian but due to the usage of milk, they are not vegan. 

How Does McDonald’s French Fries Taste Like?

McDonald's World Famous Fry Close up

For me personally, if I have ever wanted to get a snack that is quick, tasty, flavorful, and filling, then McDonald’s World Famous Fries are the way to go!

When you first bite into a fresh order of their french fries, you are immediately greeted with a hot and crispy texture. As you bite through you will get a light hint of the salty flavor and eventually into the soft and pillowy filling. 

Let’s get one thing clear, McDonald’s for the most part has the salt to fry ratio nailed.

On a very rare occasion have I come across an order or fries that are not salted properly, and in those circumstances it is always under as opposed to being over salted. 

McDonald's World Famous Fry Close up with fluffy potato filling

If you are not a big fan of salt on your fries, you can always ask the representative for an order of unsalted fries.

Keep in mind this means one of the team members will fry a fresh batch of fries so it is understandable that it will take a little longer and all the more reason to have more patience as they prepare your order. 

Regardless of if you get them salted or not, they will always retain that golden brown color and crispy texture on a fresh order. 

There have definitely been moments where some time has passed and either your errands or life just gets in the way of enjoying the fries immediately.

McDonald's World Famous Fry Close up with fluffy potato filling

In those instances, I have noticed that you can just toss them in the toaster for 3 to 4 minutes and they will be back to being crispy!

In order to take that taste to another level, you can always dip it in ketchup which just adds a sweet and tangy flavor to go along with your fries. 

I know folks that like to dip their french fries in both ketchup and mayonnaise for a whole new taste and I say to each their own flavor profile. We are all just food lovers with different pallets, so no there is no judgment here!

Are McDonald French Fries Worth it?

McDonald's World Famous Fries - Large, Small, and Medium

If you are looking for a quick and delicious bite to grab as a snack, McDonald’s World Famous Fries are most definitely worth it!

Granted, this is not going to be your go to snack if you are super strict on your carbohydrate intake.

Each serving of these french fries offers 0 grams of trans fat and each size contains 110 calories with 15 grams of carbs for kids, 230 calories with 31 grams of carbs for small, 320 calories 43 grams of carbs for medium, and 480 calories with 65 grams of carbs for a large.

But if you love fries and want to eat some, then McDonald’s fries are not a bad choice to have.

Overall Thoughts

McDonald’s has come a long way in trying to make this delicious delicacy as healthy as possible. 

Thanks to the food scientists these crispy, golden brown, soft, and fluffy french fries are vegetarian friendly as well. 

Hopefully as we move forward,  McDonald’s in the United States will be able to incorporate practices from the United Kingdom or Australia in making their fries vegan friendly as well. 

It is only natural that as I am writing this… I am craving french fries this instant. Guess I am heading straight to McDonald’s right now! 

So long story short, McDonald’s Fries are Vegetarian but are not Vegan.