Nuclear Take: McDonald's French Fries Suck
"Have you ever seen a puppy encounter snow for the first time? He burrows his nose into it with this look of perplexity and sheer delight because he can’t understand where this white thing came from. It was like that for me.”
That's how Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell describes his first experience with McDonald's french fries on an episode of his podcast "Revisionist History." Gladwell was 13 at the time — back in the days before McDonald's made the switch from frying fries in beef tallow to frying them in vegetable oil.
That fateful switch occurred in 1992. Gladwell describes that day as one where McDonald's "turned their backs on everything I once held dear."
McDonald's choice to betray him was faulty in its reasoning anyway, Gladwell concludes. He describes how there was great cultural pressure to get rid of saturated fat and how McDonald's felt pressure to make its menu healthier. In more recent years, however, vegetable oil has been found to be more unhealthy. In light of this fact, Gladwell thinks McDonald's should revert to its former glorious recipe.
Gladwell discusses how in the 1950s when fastfood was gaining traction in the U.S., McDonald's french fries were what made them stand out. Changing the frying element completely changed the texture and taste of the fry, he says, and now, they suck. He's not alone. I found a 1995 interview with Julia Child, a popular chef back in the day, complaining about the change. She's pretty boring to watch, but she says that since they changed from beef tallow to vegetable oil, she stopped eating the fries and described them as "rather limp."
As a youth who came into this world four years after the change, I have never tasted the former glory of McDonald's french fries. The way they are now taste fine to me, but I don't know what could have been. In researching this topic, I did find a bit of a rebuttal against going back to beef tallow: vegetarianism. People have sued McDonald's even rather recently because the company still uses small amounts of beef flavoring in its fry recipe. While McDonald's hasn't claimed the fries are vegetarian, I guess these people assumed they could trust the fried potatoes because publically McDonald's said they were fried in vegetable oil.
Business Insider recently ranked five popular food chains' fries based on crispiness, freshness, flavor, potato quality, saltiness, and quantity. McDonald's ranked worst. The reason Business Insider gave: "We were disappointed by how limp and thin these fries were, with way more "crisp" than potato. They also had an unappealing "chemical" aftertaste that could be attributed to old oil in the fryer. At least they were really hot!" Maybe Gladwell and Child are right.
In case you're interested in the rest of the rankings:
2. Five Guys
3. Burger King