Fries are known to be that one safe staple food that every vegan goes to whenever there is no other plant-based option available somewhere. This is a rather common occurrence when it comes to fast-food restaurants. You cannot always find a plant-based burger, but you can always find some basic french fries – more often than not, they will be vegan-friendly.
However, sometimes unnecessary ingredients are added to the so-called safe food making it no longer plant-based. McDonald’s is an example of why you should still always check the vegan status of fries with the establishment. So what are McDonald’s fries made from, and can we consider them vegan-friendly?
Are McDonald’s fries vegan?
You don’t need much to make fries. A few potatoes, some salt, and oil – that’s about it. This might be why people like to assume that fries are always vegan-friendly. I know I sure did when I went vegan, but I have learned that reality is often different.
You can add just about anything to fries to make them unfit for vegans, and McDonald’s is a fast-food restaurant chain that has done just that. It’s worth mentioning that McDonald’s is a global restaurant chain, and the fries are made differently depending on the country. But when talking about the french fries offered in American branches, they cannot be considered vegan (however, they have other vegan options at McDonald’s). It’s questionable if we can even consider them vegetarian.
What makes McDonald’s fries non-vegan?
I grew up loving McDonald’s french fries a tad bit more than healthy, so you can bet I was mournful when I found out they no longer fit my lifestyle. It’s best to go over the ingredient list to see why the fries are not suitable for vegan folks. I have gotten the following list from McDonald’s official US website.
- 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.
- Contains wheat and milk.
We can see one problematic ingredient in that list – natural beef flavor, which contains dairy. That makes it crystal clear that McDonald’s french fries are not suitable for us vegans. At least the company has made it very simple to identify dairy as an ingredient and allergen – props to them for that.
Are McDonald’s fries vegetarian?
For decades, the famous fries were cooked in beef fat – that practice was fortunately stopped quite a while ago, and McDonald’s now uses a blend of vegetable oil. However, that animal fat was replaced with a small amount of natural beef flavor thrown in the vegetable oil.
One might assume that beef flavor comes from the meat of a cow, and that might well be true. But natural flavor is an umbrella term commonly used by companies and corporations – it isn’t always as natural as it sounds and could be derived from anything. McDonald’s has not specified what exactly their beef flavoring is made from. However, it is good to know that the restaurant chain has not labeled their fries vegetarian in the US. We cannot be 100% certain whether the fries are vegetarian or not, but I would advise you to avoid them.
Vegan McDonald’s fries - where to find?
With tens of thousands of McDonald’s locations all across the globe, it’s no surprise that the menu items and recipes vary slightly. After some research, traveling around, and dining outs in different McDonal’d locations, I have to acknowledge that the establishment is a lot more vegan-friendly in other parts of the world than it is in the USA.
- The UK – McDonald’s has become quite popular in the UK amongst vegans thanks to the McPlant burger hitting the stores across the UK and Ireland (it is a treat and worth every single cent). And it is safe to grab a side of fries next to your burger! The fries are certified vegan and even have their own fryers to make sure they are cooked separately from animal products.
- India – McDonald’s fries are suitable for vegans in India. As many Indians, especially Hindus, do not consume beef due to cultural reasons, it makes no sense to use the infamous beef flavor in the fries. The fries are cooked in vegetable oil and in a separate fryer from animal-based products.
- Canada – The fries are vegan. However, if cross-contamination is an issue for you, you are out of luck. Unlike in the UK and India, McDonald’s restaurants in Canada do not have separate frying vets for the fries.
- Australia – Like in Canada, the fries are free from animal-derived components but are cooked in the same oil as non-vegan menu items. This is a common issue at many fast-food places, including Burger King and Wendy’s.
Frequently Asked Questions
The fries served in McDonald’s branches in the US are not vegan as you can find beef flavor in their ingredient list. We are not sure if the beef flavor is made from beef, but it does contain dairy. However, in many countries (Canada, Australia, India, UK), McDonald’s fries are entirely vegan.
McDonald’s fries have beef flavor in them, and one might assume that means it contains beef, but that might not be the case. It is unclear whether the natural flavor comes from actual meat. However, we can be sure it isn’t vegan as it contains dairy.