The most popular item at McDonald’s isn’t a burger. The fast food stalwart may have served over 300 billion beef patties, but their burger sales have been dwarfed by a swift business in deep-fried shoestring potatoes. In fact, McDonald’s sells over 9 million pounds of french fries each day.
Traditionally made from a simple recipe of potatoes, oil and salt, french fries are what vegans and vegetarians tend to seek out when there appear to be no other options on the menu. But fast food fried potatoes aren’t always plant-based. Many chains use additives, flavorings and other ingredients that make this vegan classic uncharacteristically non-vegan. Here’s a rundown of which fast food fries are vegan, and which are not.
Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan?
Unfortunately, McDonald’s french fries are not vegan, and the animal-based ingredient may surprise you.
McDonald’s French Fries Ingredients
The ingredients of McDonald’s french fries are:
- Vegetable oil (canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor)
- Sodium acid
Why Are McDonald’s Fries Not Vegan in the U.S.?
Many people assume the beef flavoring in french fries is the key component that takes them off the menu for vegans. While this is true, there is another culprit: milk. The “natural beef flavor” is actually derived from dairy products, making this product unsuitable for vegan customers. This is also true of McDonald’s other potato products, like hash browns.
It’s possible that the chain’s french fries are non-vegetarian as well. Companies are not required to disclose the ingredients of their natural or artificial flavorings (with the exception of common allergens like peanuts or milk). Since McDonald’s has not voluntarily revealed the chemical ingredients of their “natural beef flavoring,” other than wheat and milk derivatives, it’s unclear if the fries are vegetarian either.
McDonald’s has a long history of obscuring ingredients that aren’t vegetarian or vegan. In 2002, they paid millions of dollars to Hindu groups to settle a lawsuit based on advertisements that falsely stated their french fries contained no beef additives.
Is Anything at McDonald’s Vegan?
To this day, U.S. McDonald’s has never partnered with a vegan or vegetarian organization to verify or certify their products. There are frighteningly few options that do not contain meat, dairy or eggs on the ingredients list: essentially just apple slices and apple pie. Of course, sugar and apples aren’t exactly a filling and nutritious meal, so it appears consumers looking for plant-based options should avoid the McDonald’s drive-through.
There is some cause for hope. McDonald’s has begun experimenting with a McPlant burger, following a trend of fast-food giants testing plant-based options, like the Impossible Whopper at Burger King and the Beyond Orange Chicken at Panda Express. These plant-based alternatives are similar in calories and nutrition to their meat counterparts, yet have a much lower carbon footprint and effect on deforestation rates.
The McPlant is not served vegan, just vegetarian, so make sure to order it without cheese or mayo if you are looking for an entirely plant-based option. The McPlant is currently being trialed at selected locations across California and Texas, but it may be in stores nationwide after this limited rollout.
What Are the Vegan Fry Options in the U.S.?
Fear not, there are plenty of fast food chains who do serve vegan fried potatoes. Burger King’s classic thick fries are vegan. Arby’s curly fries are vegan and, for fans of extra-crispy vegan fries, there are options at Wendy’s.
Many restaurants cook their fries in the same oil as non-vegan foods, which makes it not an option for some vegans. Vegans can always ask the cashier about the preparation methods and request separate cooking surfaces.
Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan in Other Countries?
Each national chain of McDonald’s stores has a different menu, methodology and mission. It’s not a surprise that both the quality and quantity of vegan food vary across the more than 100 nations in which McDonald’s has a brick-and-mortar store.
Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan in the U.K.?
Yes, the fries in U.K. chains of McDonald’s stores are fully vegan, and are even recognized by the Vegetarian Society. Many U.K. McDonald’s products contain the V seedling logo, an international symbol for meat-free food. Remember that not all products with this symbol are vegan, however, since they can contain eggs and dairy.
All U.K. locations of McDonald’s are now carrying the McPlant Burger, which is certified vegan. Unlike in the U.S., this version of the burger features vegan sauces and cheese. It’s even cooked separately from the animal-based offerings. McDonald’s U.K. also offers Veggie Dippers (pea protein-based nuggets), a vegan wrap, apple slices, hash browns and other vegan menu options.
Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan in Canada?
Yes, the fries in Canada are vegan. Veg-minded Canadians can also guzzle down their blueberry pomegranate, strawberry banana and mango pineapple smoothies (ordered without yogurt) or snack on the everything bagel or English muffin.
Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan in Australia?
Yes, the fries in Australia are vegan. However, that’s about the extent of the options for vegans in Australia — the only other vegan options are apple slices, hash browns and coffee.
What You Can Do
When it comes to plant-based offerings, McDonald’s has fallen behind its major competitor, Burger King.
Growing sales of vegan fast food could persuade McDonald’s to veganize their existing products or create new ones, as they did with the McPlant. Make requests to your local McDonald’s, patronize local vegan restaurants or sign a petition asking for systemic change in fast-food companies.
But for vegans who are simply in it for a salty and crispy treat, homemade french fries are easy to make and even easier to eat.
Björn Jóhann Ólafsson is an Icelandic-American educator and writer based in Barcelona, Spain. He is committed to both social justice and animal liberation.