Return to top
featured in… The Huffington Post CookingLight Reader's Digest Women's Health BuzzFeed Glamour Whole Foods Oprah Winfrey Network CNN Food Network Healthline Shape

Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Are McDonald’s Fries Vegetarian? Are They Vegan?

This post may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read my disclosure.
Share This:

McDonald’s Fries can literally be found anywhere in the world. It’s one of the most popular fast food snacks — it’s tasty, budget friendly, and easy to get! But if you’re vegetarian or vegan, you might be wondering ‘Are McDonald’s Fries Vegetarian?’ ‘Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan?’ The short answer is: no, McDonald’s Fries are not vegetarian or vegan! Read on to learn more about this popular snack food, key ingredients, and vegetarian alternatives to McDonald’s fries!

Are McDonald's Fries Vegetarian - A box of Mc Donalds French Fries on a wooden tray.

French fries are total comfort food and they’re typically made from just a handful of simple ingredients: potatoes, oil and salt! So if you’re thinking of ordering McDonald’s famous french fries, you may assume that their fries are made from the same three basic ingredients. Because why would fries contain meat or animal products?

Crazily enough, in the United States, McDonald’s fries are not vegan, they aren’t even vegetarian!

Now, in other countries, McDonald’s uses different ingredients so their fries may end up being vegetarian or vegan friendly. But for the most part, if you’re plant-based, you will want to avoid this popular fast food chain and their french fries!

But why is a product that is so popular around the world and seemingly made from minimal plant-based ingredients not vegan?

In this helpful guide, I will share the truth behind McDonald’s fries. I’ll cover why they aren’t vegan or vegetarian friendly and take a look at key ingredients. But don’t worry, I won’t leave you without alternatives. Keep on reading for healthy or vegan alternatives to McDonald’s fries so you can still enjoy a worldwide favorite side dish.

What Is A Vegan Diet?

A vegan diet is often considered a lifestyle rather than simply a diet, due to its strong values of respecting and protecting all living beings. Vegans do not consume meat, fish, or animal by-products such as eggs, dairy, or honey. 

The majority of a vegan diet consists of plant-based foods such as fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, pasta, and rice. Depending upon where you live and what supermarket you purchase from, there are also a lot of vegan alternatives to animal products such as dairy-free milk and cheese.

People who follow a vegan diet are not only passionate about the welfare of animals but are often concerned with following a healthy lifestyle. Strict vegans do not consume processed goods where food has added colors or flavors and will avoid high-sugar products particularly items with high-fructose corn syrup.

What Is A Vegetarian Diet?

Similar to vegans, vegetarian people do not eat meat or fish but do consume animal by-products. A vegetarian diet will consist of dairy e.g. milk, cream, and cheese, along with eggs and honey.

They will also eat a range of plant-based foods such as: all vegetables, fruits, legumes (e.g. beans, chickpeas, lentils, black-eyed peas), nuts and seeds, and all grains (e.g. pasta, rice, cereal, bread).

When Were McDonald’s Fries Created?

McDonald’s is a fast-food giant famous around the world. With its signature logo, you can recognize McDonald’s restaurants no matter where you travel to.

The McDonald’s chain began in 1948 in California with brothers Dick and Mac McDonald. Since opening, it has become one of the biggest fast food restaurants with over 36,000 restaurants in 100+ nations.

McDonald’s fries were one of the first items on the basic fast-food menu with just three items in total, hamburgers, shakes, and fries. They first debuted in 1955 in their flagship restaurant in Illinois.

How Are McDonald’s Fries Made?

The fries start off as potatoes, that are put through a machine that slices them into long, very thin strips. Then the potatoes are put through a chemical bath which includes Dextrose and Sodium acid pyrophosphate – to help maintain their color and keep them fresh looking.

McDonald’s suppliers will then flash fry the potatoes in a vegetable oil blend (more details on that below) to produce a crispy outside and fluffy inside. And then the fries are frozen and shipped to McDonald’s, where they are fried again and salt is added before serving in the classic McDonald’s red, cardboard containers.

In the past, the fries were cooked in beef tallow (another name for lard). But due to customer demand, they changed the cooking process to use vegetable oil due to its lower level of saturated fat.

Following this decision, McDonald’s received complaints that their fries no longer had the “authentic McDonald fries flavor.” So for an “extra kick of flavor,” they added beef flavoring to the vegetable oil blend used in frying the fries. So yes, there is beef in McDonald’s french fries today.

Why Was There A Lawsuit Against McDonald’s?

In 2001, a group of vegetarians and religious groups sued McDonald’s in a class-action lawsuit because their fries were made with beef flavoring / beef tallow, but wasn’t disclosed to the general public explicitly on McDonald’s menu.

In fact, McDonald’s mislabeled its french fries and hash browns as vegetarian. McDonald’s did settle the suit and issue an apology on their website when it was over, but also stated that they also have no plans to change how they prepare their fries in the US.

What Are The Ingredients In McDonald’s Fries?

Initially, you wouldn’t think twice about whether or not McDonald’s fries are vegan or vegetarian. Fries are made from potatoes, right?!

Yes, that’s true. But it’s the additional animal ingredients and how McDonald’s french fries are cooked that causes them to no longer be vegan or vegetarian-friendly.

The biggest surprise is that even though McDonald’s is a global food chain, they actually create different types of fries for different countries, and the same fries are cooked differently depending upon the country you are in.

When evaluating whether McDonald’s Fries are vegetarian or vegan, there are five things to consider:

  1. Are the ingredients vegan?
  2. Are the ingredients vegetarian?
  3. Is there any cross contamination with meat based products?
  4. What type of fat or frying oil are the fries cooked in?
  5. Do the fries have dedicated frying vats? Are they cooked separately from other meat based products?

In the UK and in India, these delicious fries are vegetarian and vegan based on the above criteria.

In Australia, the fries are not cooked separately and there likely is cross contamination, same with Canada.

In the United States, the fries fail against all 5 criteria above. So essentially, unless you’re enjoying these fries in the UK or India, you can bet that they are not vegetarian or vegan friendly.

Let’s compare the UK and the U.S. ingredients as an example. 

McDonald’s Fries Ingredient List (UK Version)

According to McDonald’s website, the UK fries consist of:

  • Potatoes made by McCain’s who use Russet Burbank, Pentland Dell, and Shepody varieties
  • Non-hydrogenated vegetable oils consisting of Sunflower and Rapeseed oil
  • Dextrose

The fries are then cooked on-site in non-hydrogenated vegetable oil and have salt added after cooking.

McDonald’s UK does specify that their fries are cooked in the same oil as their red pepper and pesto goujons which are also vegan.

Now let’s compare this simple ingredients list with the McDonald’s fries served in the U.S.

U.S. Ingredient List For McDonald’s Fries

Based on McDonald’s US website, their fries contain:

  • Potatoes
  • Vegetable oils consisting of canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, and natural beef flavor (which contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk – milk derivatives)
  • Dextrose
  • Sodium acid pyrophosphate (added for maintaining color)
  • Salt

Let’s break down this ingredients list a bit further.

  1. Potatoes: This is fine, it’s just a variety of different potatoes that this fast food chain uses.
  2. Vegetable Oils: The problem with the different vegetable oils McDonald’s uses is that all of them are high in inflammatory Omega 6 fats. Additionally, they use hydrogenated soybean oil which is a trans fat, and has been directly linked to heart disease. The vegetable oils are used twice, once before freezing the fries, and then the fries are cooked again in the restaurant.
  3. Natural Beef Flavoring: All McDonald’s discloses about this mystery ingredient is that it “contains Hydrolyzed Wheat and Hydrolyzed Milk as starting ingredients). What the US branches of this fast-food chain don’t tell you is that “beef flavoring” could be derived from just about anything, as they aren’t required to specify whether the flavoring comes from beef fat, or something else, and how many ingredients or chemicals are actually hidden under this one umbrella.
  4. Dextrose: This is added sugar that helps the potatoes retain their color.
  5. Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate: A chemical which prevents the potatoes from turning gray.

If you are in the UK, your french fries are guaranteed to be vegan and vegetarian-friendly. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case for U.S McDonald’s fries.

Are McDonald’s Fries Vegan?

Unfortunately no, if you are in any of the McDonald’s locations except the UK and India, your fries are not vegan. Especially in the US, they contain ‘natural beef flavor’ and milk (included in the natural flavor). As vegans do not consume meat or animal by-products, U.S. fries are not vegan-friendly.

Plus, this fast food giant in most countries does not guarantee that their french fries are not cross-contaminated by being cooked in the same oil as their meat products such as chicken nuggets.

Are McDonald’s Fries Vegetarian?

In India and the UK, McDonald’s restaurant fries are vegetarian as they do not contain any meat and are not cross-contaminated.

However, if you are in the U.S., Australia, Canada or most other countries, McDonald’s french fries are not vegetarian due to the beef flavor + cross contamination issues.

As far as we know, there are no plans to change the ingredients to accommodate other dietary choices such as vegan or vegetarianism.

Are McDonald’s Fries Healthy?

Like most fast food products, McDonald’s fries are not healthy. According to the McDonald’s U.S. website, a small portion of fries contains:

  • 220 calories
  • 10g fat
  • 29g carbohydrates
  • 180mg sodium
  • 3g protein
  • 3g fiber
  • 1.5g saturated fat

Even though these fries offer a small amount of your daily recommended fiber and protein, everything else about them is totally unhealthy.

They are high in calories (220 calories for a small, 490 for a large portion of french fries), fat, and carbohydrates, which outweigh any potential nutritional benefit of eating McDonald’s french fries. They also provide no vitamins or minerals for your daily recommended intake.

Additionally, the US fries contain added trans fats (hydrogenated oils), added sugar (dextrose), and processed ingredients.

The UK McDonald’s fries aren’t much better containing:

  • 237 calories
  • 12g fat
  • 1.1g saturated fat
  • 0.4g sugar
  • 0.44g salt

If you are concerned with making healthy choices, McDonald’s french fries are not the healthiest option!

McDonalds restaurant exterior. View of the fast food restaurant on sunny day.

Vegetarian And Vegan Alternatives To McDonald’s Fries

Unsurprisingly, within the U.S., there aren’t many vegan alternatives at McDonald’s. If you are looking for vegan items in the U.S. you are limited to:

  • McDonald’s fruit and maple oatmeal, but ask for it to be made with water, not milk
  • Black coffee
  • Orange juice
  • Plain English muffin
  • Apple slices
  • Maple syrup
  • Grape or strawberry jelly
  • Most of their drinks (tea, coffee) without milk or cream
  • The side salad options with no cheese or dressing
  • And in some areas, McDonald’s has launched their new vegan burger – the McPlant (which makes for more of a vegan meal than the other options on this list!)

But within the UK, there is a whole vegan menu available that includes:

  • The spicy veggie wrap
  • Veggie dippers (vegan vegetable nuggets)
  • McDonald’s fries
  • Hash browns
  • The vegan & vegetarian burger (the McPlant burger)
  • Tropicana orange juice
  • Carrot or melon bag
  • And of course, their vegetarian friendly and vegan fries!

So, if you are based outside of the UK and would like decent vegan fast-food options, I highly recommend avoiding McDonald’s. Unfortunately, a large number of fast-food chains still do not provide 100% guaranteed vegan options such as Carl’s Jr or Subway. 

Instead, take a trip to Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, or Five Guys. Each of these fast-food joints has a huge range of vegan options. Not to mention, if it’s french fries you are craving, Five Guys provides french fries with extra pizazz. Their french fries are thick-cut and fried in peanut oil and they guarantee their customers that no other ingredients except potatoes + peanut oil are included.

Healthier Alternatives To McDonald’s Fries

At the end of the day, if you’re ordering fries from a fast-food restaurant, they might be vegetarian, but they won’t be healthy.

The best way to ensure you know exactly what goes in your fries and that they are healthier for you than McDonald’s fries is to make your own fries at home and to either bake them or air-fry them to reduce the amount of calories and fat.

You can make them from fresh potatoes or even sweet potatoes. Or feel free to change up your homemade bag of fries — and try making waffle fries or even curly fries.

Oven-Baked French Fries

To make your own fries, simply peel the skin from your potatoes and wash them. Slice them as thin as you prefer. The thinner the faster they will cook.

After this, spray them with vegetable oil and toss them with paprika, garlic powder, and chili powder if you would like additional flavor. Lay them on an oven tray and cook in the oven. Oven-cooked fries are much healthier than fried in a pan of oil or deep-fat fryer as they aren’t soaking up excess oil.

They will cook for around 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees (230 degrees C).

Once they are cooked, you can enjoy your fries with homemade tomato ketchup or vegan garlic mayo dip.

Air Fryer French Fries

Alternatively, for extremely crispy fries, if you have an air fryer, this could make a great alternative to McDonald’s fries. 

For your air fryer french fries, follow the first steps above to prepare the ingredients and cut them to the right size. Add your seasoning and place your fries into the air fryer. Spray with oil, toss, and cook for 10 minutes.

FAQs

Are McDonald’s Fries Halal?

This popular menu item is unfortunately not Halal if you’re eating it in the US. In countries where the fries are already certified as vegan or vegetarian, they likely are Halal too, but you should always ask before eating them!

Are McDonald’s Fries vegan in Canada?

Yes! The ingredients list for the fries in Canada are: Potatoes, high oleic low linolenic canola oil and/or canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural flavor (vegetable source), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), citric acid (preservative), dimethylpolysiloxane (antifoaming agent). No animal products here! But there could be cross-contamination at the restaurant, which would technically make these fries not vegan or vegetarian.

Are McDonald’s Fries vegetarian or vegan in Australia?

Yes! The ingredients list for Australia is one of the cleanest: Potato, canola oil, mineral salt (450), dextrose, antifoam (1521). So these fries are vegetarian and vegan in Australia!

Are Burger King Fries vegetarian?

Yes they are! Here are the ingredients for Burger King fries: Potatoes, Soybean Oil or Canola and Palm Oil, Modified Potato Starch, Rice Flour, Potato Dextrin, Salt, Leavening (Disodium Dihydrogen Pyrophosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dextrose, Xanthan Gum, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate added to preserve natural color.

What type of potato does McDonald’s use for french fries?

According to McDonald’s FAQs, they use a mix of potatoes for their fries including the Russet Burbank, Russet Ranger, Umatilla Russet and the Shepody.

What oil are McDonald’s fries cooked in?

It depends on the country you’re in! In the US, the fries are cooked in a blend of 4 oils: canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, and hydrogenated soybean oil (a trans fat!).

In the UK, they’re cooked in sunflower oil & rapeseed oil. In Canada, it’s canola and hydrogenated soybean oil. In Australia – the fries are the “cleanest” in terms of cooking oils – only canola oil is used.

Golden French Fries in a metal colander with Tomato Sauce in a small white bowl

More Healthy Eating Guides!

Recipes To Try!

These fries are much healthier than McDonald’s fries, or any fast-food alternative. As they are cooked from scratch at home, you know exactly what ingredients you have used, there is no added sugar or salt, and the fat and calorie intake is considerably lower.

Final Thoughts

If you are vegan or vegetarian living in the U.S., then you should avoid McDonald’s fries. For a quick, fast-food alternative, you can feel confident driving up to a Chipotle Mexican Grill, Taco Bell, or Five Guys knowing they will have a range of vegan-friendly options.

But the best and healthiest alternative to McDonald’s french fries is cooking your very own fries at home. This way you know exactly what ingredients are used and how your fries are cooked to guarantee they are 100% vegan.

I hope this guide helped you understand the details behind McDonald’s fries so you can decide for yourself whether to enjoy them! If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to email me or leave a comment here. I respond to every question I get!

10 responses to “Are McDonald’s Fries Vegetarian? Are They Vegan?”

  1. This was super informative! I love the alternative ideas for Mcdonalds Fries. I’m going to save this for making fries in the air fryer.

  2. Oh mannnnn… I hate to admit it, but McDonald’s makes my favorite fast food french fries. Especially when they are hot and salty. 🙂

  3. Kind of crazy when you know all the ins and outs about them – but thankfully not something we eat, anyway.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to newsletter

Copyright 2022 The Picky Eater®, LLC. All rights reserved.