The Surprising Truth About McDonald’s French Fries

Initially starting out as a burger and fries joint in the 1940s by brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald in San Bernardino, California, McDonald’s has been offering french fries as a staple of their menu since the beginning. In fact, many people opt for McDonald’s over other fast-food restaurants just get a taste of that salty goodness. With over 80 years of french fry-making experience, some believe that McDonald’s has perfected the recipe, but few people actually know the secrets behind them.

A Limited Menu

Exterior of old building
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When McDonald’s first opened in the 1940s, the menu was somewhat limited, with a simple selection of hamburgers, fries, and a few drinks to choose from.

However, after Ray Kroc joined the company as a franchisee in the mid-1950s, some adjustments were made. These changes included the rebranding of the restaurant as well as some of the menu items. However, the restaurant’s french fries have remained virtually unchanged over the years.

The Cutting Process

Potatoes being prepared
FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP via Getty Images
FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP via Getty Images

Unlike many other fast-food restaurants, the french fries at McDonald’s aren’t cut by being placed into molds that are then pressed in order to achieve a uniform shape.

McDonald’s fries are actually cut with knives, but this doesn’t happen on location at the individual restaurants. Instead, this is done in an automated fashion in a factory. This isn’t too surprising, considering how many fries they need to produce every single day.

All-Natural Potatoes

Basket of potatoes
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

As is bound to happen with any well-known business, people share rumors about McDonald’s. One of these states that the restaurant’s french fries aren’t made from actual potatoes. This is simply not true — the french fries are indeed made from real potatoes.

Yet, that’s not to say that there aren’t any chemicals added. That just doesn’t happen until much later in the fry-making process, and is said to be one of the reasons that they are so addicting!

They Use A Variety Of Potatoes

A mix of potatoes
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Anjelika Gretskaia/REDA&CO/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What might be surprising to a lot of people is that MacDonald’s doesn’t just one specific type of potatoes. Although it’s hard to believe since basically all of the french fries look the same, there are actually four different types of potatoes used.

These potatoes are Russet Ranger, Umatilla Russet, Russet Burbank, and Shepody. McDonald’s came up with their recipe all on their own, and nobody knows how they did it but it’s sure popular.

A Number Of Ingredients

Tray of fries
Kris Connor/Getty Images for McDonald’s
Kris Connor/Getty Images for McDonald’s

French fries might seem like a pretty simple food to make. Really, all you need to make them are some potatoes and a deep fryer. However, McDonald’s didn’t get famous for doing things the boring way. Instead, they took things to a whole new level. Incredibly, their fries have a whopping 19 different ingredients that go into them.

Former Mythbuster Grant Imahara investigated precisely what went into their fries, and it’s quite shocking. It makes you wonder what else goes into other restaurants and if they have just as many ingredients.

A Massive Amount Of Potatoes

Fries in a basket
Christopher Jue/Getty Images
Christopher Jue/Getty Images

Considering the number of french fries that McDonald’s sells a day across the entire world, you might try to imagine how many potatoes are needed for such a wide-scale production. The answer is that McDonald’s has to buy over 3.4 billion pounds of potatoes each year in order to keep up with demand.

However, this number does fluctuate. Rarely does it go down but generally, it keeps going up as more locations are opened around the world.

Getting The Fries To Look The Same

Person serving fries
REMY GABALDA/AFP via Getty Images
REMY GABALDA/AFP via Getty Images

There’s an extensive process to get all of the french fries to look the same, and to make it so that people know a McDonald’s fry when they see one. It’s all in the ingredients, which is the reason that all of the fries are the exact same shade of yellow.

Even though they use a variety of potatoes, they manage to make them look uniform by dipping them in sugar and sodium acid pyrophosphate in order to ensure that they cook evenly.

Curly Fries Are Out Of The Question

Picture of curly fries
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images
Carol M. Highsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images

One of the reasons that people can easily spot a McDonald’s fry is because they all look the same, and they’re always straight. In contrast, while other restaurants may have options for different kinds of fries such as thick-cut, waffle fries, and sweet potato fries, that is not the case at McDonald’s.

It’s unlikely that these kinds of varieties will ever be found on the menu because they don’t have any reason to introduce anything new when it comes to fries.

Flash Freeze To The Rescue

Fries on an assembly line
FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP via Getty Images
FRANCOIS NASCIMBENI/AFP via Getty Images

Because the fries are cut in a factory, they have to be transported to all the different locations before they can be cooked and served to customers. The way they do this is by flash freezing the cut potatoes.

Once they arrive at the restaurant, they are then tossed into the fryer to be prepared and sold to hungry customers. While some people are disappointed that the fries are frozen, many more aren’t bothered by it.

They Aren’t Vegetarian

Woman working a fryer
Christopher Jue/Getty Images
Christopher Jue/Getty Images

If you think that you can go to McDonald’s and stick to your vegetarian diet, definitely don’t order any french fries. Back in the day, the fries were actually fried in beef fat, and while that may make them taste delicious, it’s far from healthy or vegetarian.

Today, the fries are typically made using tallow or lard. So, if you think it’s safe to eat a fry without breaking your diet, think again when you’re at McDonald’s.

Changing The Recipe

Picture of fries and ketchup
Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Although many people wouldn’t imagine that McDonald’s would ever change their fry recipe, they have indeed done just that. In 1992, it was adjusted since beef fat, tallow, and lard became increasingly costly. The company switched to vegetable oil instead.

However, it turned out that the customers noticed the change and were less than thrilled about it. So, the restaurant chain got back to work and have continued to evolve their recipe over the following years, including adding back some of the original ingredients.

Plenty Of Animal Products

Person serving fries
mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images
mark peterson/Corbis via Getty Images

Even though the recipe has been changed, they still aren’t vegan or vegetarian by any means. Although the french fries may no longer be completely covered in animal fat, some of the ingredients that have been added include natural beef flavor and even milk!

So, while they may have cut back on some of the animal fat, their french fries still have a lot of cow products in them. Vegetarians and vegans might want to steer clear!

Healthier Than Some People Might Think

Piles of fries
MOSCOAlexander ShcherbakTASS via Getty Images
MOSCOAlexander ShcherbakTASS via Getty Images

Despite all of the ingredients used and that McDonald’s isn’t always closely associated with health, their french fries are considered some of the healthiest in the fast-food world, next to Sonic. This is judged by their fat content and calories.

Nevertheless, just because McDonald’s fries aren’t the unhealthiest in the game, by no means does this make them healthy at all. No matter how good they may taste, your best option is to enjoy them in moderation.

Salt-Free Fries At McDonald’s?

Fries on a table
Chris Hondros/Getty Images
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Although you can order salt-free fries, it’s quite a pain for the workers. A lot of people don’t want fries that have been sitting around for a while, so they will order fries without salt in order to receive a freshly-cooked batch, and will then sprinkle on their own salt (or skip it).

While the salt-free option is healthier, many McDonald’s employees report feeling incredibly annoyed by the time-consuming request.

The Fries Vary Around The World

Woman holding a tray
Christopher Jue/Getty Images
Christopher Jue/Getty Images

Across the world, McDonald’s menus change depending on the country and the region. For example, in some places, spaghetti is offered. And some locations have even wilder options than that!

The ingredients in the french fries also differ from location to location. One country with a noticeable difference is the United Kingdom, where the list of ingredients is far shorter than the fries that are sold in locations across the US.

Fresh Fries Aren’t A Problem

Plate of fries
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

While requesting a fresh batch of fries with no salt can be a bit of a problem for McDonald’s employees, apparently, there isn’t much of an issue when it comes to asking for a fresh batch that’s cooked the usual way.

It’s much easier for an employee to whip up more fries that are salted as usual. So, there’s no problem asking for fresh ones, just make sure that they’re the regular kind and not without salt.

The Recommended Serving Size…

Fries in a container
JOERG KOCH/DDP/AFP via Getty Images
JOERG KOCH/DDP/AFP via Getty Images

Harvard nutrition and epidemiology professor Eric Rimm says that the proper serving of McDonald’s french fries is six, a number that might come as a shock to many people!

Of course, although this may be the best for your health, it’s rare that anybody only eats six fries when getting a meal from McDonald’s. A lot of people might even get the large size because it isn’t much more money, and you can get more bang for your buck.

Working Off Those Calories

Small order of fries
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

If you were to order a small serving of McDonald’s french fries, you better get up and start moving if you want to burn off all of those calories. Just a small portion of these fries can take up to an hour to walk off, considering that they are around 230 calories.

If you want to work these off, you would need to walk for an hour, run for 20 minutes, or ride a bike for 30 minutes. It’s up to you whether the fries are worth it

They’re The Best-Selling Item

Stack of french fries
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Although McDonald’s is also known for popular items such as the Big Mac, milkshakes, the McRib, and of course, chicken nuggets, fries are the best-selling item by far.

There are even stories of people going to one fast-food restaurant to get a burger or other item, and then stopping by McDonald’s to pick up some of their beloved fries. They better not make any major changes to their recipe anytime soon, because some people would be up in arms about it!

Secrets Of The Logo

Picture in front of sign
ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images
ROBERT SULLIVAN/AFP via Getty Images

One of the most identifying characteristics of McDonald’s is known as the “Golden Arches,” which is the giant “M” logo that can be seen at almost every single McDonalds location.

While the “M” may stand for McDonald’s, if you look closely, you’ll notice there’s more to it than that. The “M” is actually made up of two golden french fries, which prove what a staple selling point they have been to the company since they were first introduced.