#TBT: Today we look back to when McDonald’s french fries were really good.
The Original French Fry
More than 70 years ago, McDonald’s tried to develop the perfect french fry. Focusing on the crunch and the flavor, they discovered it was all about the oil.
McDonald’s french fries cooked perfectly whenever the oil temperature rose no more than three degrees above its lowest point. With an electrical sensor that maintained the three-degree difference, they were able to recreate the consummate crunch.
They used russet potatoes that were stored for three weeks to get an optimal sugar/starch balance. There was a soaking stage and they were sure to use beef tallow for frying.
With the right temperature and the right oil, the fries were legendary. And that was the problem. Now they are just a legend.
A “Healthy” French Fry
On July 23, 1990 McDonald’s changed their french fry recipe. Responding to a healthy food campaign, they replaced the beef tallow with a blend of vegetable oils. Yes, the beef tallow had been high in saturated fat while the new blend had less cholesterol, less saturated fat (and less taste).
But we later found out that the mixture was high in trans-fats which was worse. So responding to another healthy food clamor, they again changed the recipe. And the final touch? To retain a hint of the tallow, they still added “natural beef flavor.”
Our Bottom Line: Opportunity Cost
As economists we know that there never is a free lunch (especially at McDonald’s). You can see below that the current recipe has a lot of calories, sodium, and fat.
So why sacrifice beef tallow fries that would taste so much better?
My sources and more: Thanks to Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History for the McDonald’s story. Although his podcast wonderfully tells it all, you could also read this 1990 news article that describes the oil switch.Then, for even more detail about McDonald’s ingredients, wired and uproxx are possibilities.