French fries can be a vegan’s saving grace. No matter how un-vegan-friendly a restaurant may seem, you can usually count on good ol’ french fries to provide you with basic sustenance. However, not all fries are created equal, and not all fries are vegan.
In this “is it vegan?” article, we’ll look at various fast food joints’ fries, but our main focus will be on the most (in)famous of them all: McDonald’s. Are McDonald’s fries vegan? You’re about to find out.
What the heck are in Mickey D’s fries?
McDonald’s fries are perhaps as scrutinized as they are loved. For many French fry lovers, they set the standard for fast food fries, but to the more mindful consumer, these salty, oily potato sticks may raise about a million red flags, mostly because there’s a lot more to them than just potatoes, oil, and salt.
Before we can correctly determine whether McDonald’s fries are vegan, we need to address the differences in the fries’ formulas from country to country. McDonald’s fries in the UK will look differently than those in Australia, Australia’s may differ from the United States’ or Canada’s, and so on.
We’ll break down the differences and decide which countries’ McDonald’s, if any, have vegan fries:
McDonald’s fries were in the media hotseat in 2001 when three vegetarians, including two Hindus, sued the company for not disclosing that their fries contain beef flavoring. Mickey D’s shelled out a $10 million settlement to various vegetarian groups as an apology, but get this — the US formula still uses beef flavoring to this day. (1, 2)
The McDonald’s US website clearly lists “Natural Beef Flavor” and “Milk Derivatives” as ingredients in their fries, making them unsuitable for vegans and vegetarians alike. They also contain hydrolyzed wheat, so they’re no friend to those living with gluten intolerance, either. (3)
McDonald’s has previously released an ad explaining the purpose of each of the ingredients found in their US fries, but the video has since mysteriously disappeared from the interwebs.
Alternatively, you can get a much more condensed version down below:
While vegans living in the US may be disappointed to learn that they can’t partake in McDonald’s famous fries, it’s far from the end of the world, as there are vegan fries available nearly everywhere else (more on that later).
And with 19 ingredients, who needs McDonald’s fries anyway? (4)
If you’re eating McDonald’s fries in Australia, the ingredients look much simpler: potatoes, canola oil, dextrose, and antifoam (more precisely, non-ionic polyalkylene glycol). They’re still not exactly a health food, but they’re certainly free from animal ingredients. (5)
Canadian McDonald’s fries more closely resemble those found in the US, with far too many ingredients, including citric acid and dimethylpolysiloxane, but they remain free of animal-derived ingredients, making them vegan-friendly.
Great Britain boasts the simplest and least frightening ingredient list: potatoes, vegetable oil (sunflower and rapeseed), dextrose, and salt. (6)
As a rule, McDonald’s generally cook their fries separately from other menu items, (except for the vegan-friendly veggie patty served in Great British locations), so you don’t have to worry about your fries sharing oil with McNuggets. (7)
UPDATE: McDonalds UK fries have now gained Vegan Approved status from the Vegetarian Society. Lucky Brits!
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Are French fries vegan elsewhere?
Now we know that most McDonald’s French fries are vegan outside of the US, but what about other chains’ fries? Some have only three ingredients, while others have well over a dozen. Some are fried in the same oil as non-vegan food items, while others are cooked separately.
While it isn’t entirely practical to name every fast food chain in the world that serves fries, we’ll examine many of the most popular chains and figure out who’s packing purely plant-based potatoes, and who’s spoiling their spuds with traces of animal products.
The following chains generally do not cook their fries separately from other non-vegan, fried foods.
The ingredients in the fries themselves are vegan, but if you would rather not consume fries that have been cooked in the same oil as chicken tenders, fish patties, or other animal products, you’d be wise to avoid these restaurants’ fries:
Burger King’s fries contain an unnecessary 13 ingredients.
The company’s allergen information lists fries as one of several menu items that shares a fryer with the likes of their fish filet, pork sausage, chicken nuggets, and many other animal-based items.
If you’d rather not eat fries bathed in essence of pig, fish, or chicken, you’ll want to bypass Burger King.
With a whopping 14 ingredients, Wendy’s “natural-cut fries” are not as wholesome as they seem. Most of the numerous ingredients can be attributed to several kinds of plant-based oils, but these fries also contain anti-foaming agents and preservatives to help them maintain color.
According to the allergen disclaimer at the bottom of the fries’ ingredients on the company’s US site, they share frying vats with menu items that contain fish.
Jack in the Box
The strictly US-based Jack in the Box is another chain with about a dozen ingredients in their fries.
Because this chain serves a number of other fried items on their menu, they state that there is no guarantee that any item on the menu won’t be cross contaminated by any number of allergens, including milk and eggs. It’s a shame, considering that they also have technically vegan curly fries, but then again, it’s entirely up to the individual to decide whether or not cross contamination is an issue.
Carl’s Jr., also known as Hardee’s in certain parts of the US, is an international fast food chain that’s infamously known for its racy and problematic ads featuring scantily clad women. While their fries are seemingly free of explicitly animal-based ingredients, it’s unclear whether they are cooked separately or not.
Since the site states that they “do not have an allergen free cooking environment in kitchens,” you’re probably better off skipping the Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s fries if you don’t want to risk eating fries cooked in the same oil as animal products.
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The freshest fries
Finding fries that are always cooked separately is no easy feat, as it’s more convenient for most restaurants to simply fry everything in the same oil.
However, there are a couple of stand-out restaurants that vegans should put on their radar if they’re craving fries that are completely free of cross contamination:
In-N-Out has a cult following in the Western and Midwestern US. Their burgers and shakes may not be made for vegans, but their fries certainly are. Cooked separately in nothing but sunflower oil and lightly salted, these three-ingredient fries are about as fresh and pure as fried food can get.
If you live in California, Texas, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, or Utah you can always count on In-N-Out for high-quality, vegan fries without a ton of extra ingredients.
Five Guys is a quickly expanding international chain, with locations found throughout the US, UK, Italy, Canada, Belgium, Ireland and more. Like In-N-Out, these fries are made with just three ingredients: potatoes, peanut oil, and salt.
Their FAQ section states “our fries are just plain potatoes cooked in 100% peanut oil and are suitable for even vegan diets.” As an added bonus, their delicious Cajun style fries are vegan-friendly as well. Score!
Are McDonald’s fries vegan? The final verdict
McDonald’s fries are vegan in most locations except those in the US because the US formula contains beef- and milk-derived ingredients. While most other fast food joints serve plant-based fries, your options will be limited if you’re trying to avoid fries that have been cross contaminated by a shared fryer.
Is cross contamination a concern for you? Let me know what your fry philosophy is down below!
About The Author:
Cristina is a writer, doggy daycare attendant, and vegan of nearly a decade. She earned a B.A. in Comparative Literature with a minor in gender studies from University of California, Irvine. As an undergrad, she served as president of the university’s animal rights club and conducted and presented research on the intersections of feminism and veganism.
When she’s not writing or taking care of dogs, she enjoys reading everything from autobiographies to YA fantasy novels, tending to her houseplants, cooking, and drawing. She lives in Southern California with her boyfriend and their dog.
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- ABC News | McDonald’s Sued Over Beef in Fries | https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93386&page=1
- Herbert G. McCann | https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mcdonalds-settles-beef-over-fries/ | https://www.cbsnews.com/news/mcdonalds-settles-beef-over-fries/
- McDonalds | World Famous Fries – Nutritional Information | https://www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/product/small-french-fries.html
- Roberto A. Ferdman | There are 19 ingredients in McDonald’s french fries | https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/01/22/there-are-19-ingredients-in-mcdonalds-french-fries/?noredirect=on
- McDonalds Australia | Fries | https://mcdonalds.com.au/menu/fries#
- McDonalds GB | McDonald’s Fries | https://www.mcdonalds.com/gb/en-gb/product/fries-medium.html
- McDonalds GB | Are your fries cooked in separate oil to that of meat? | https://www.mcdonalds.com/gb/en-gb/help/faq/19043-are-your-fries-cooked-in-separate-oil-to-that-of-meat.html