Since we started VeggL and began producing vegan guides for popular chain restaurants across the US, two of the questions that we have received the most both pertain to McDonald’s. Everyone asks if the fries are vegan (not in the US they’re not) and the question we’re going to discuss here:
Are McDonald’s Hash Browns Vegan?
The short answer here is, no, McDonald’s Hash Browns are not vegan.
But, why not, you might ask. After all, hash browns are just potatoes and potatoes are vegan, so, what’s the problem?
Simply put, their Hash Browns have a natural beef flavoring that contains dairy.
McDonald’s & Potatoes
To understand how McDonald’s ended up with natural beef flavoring in their hash browns, it’s helpful to look at the “evolution” of how McDonald’s prepares their french fries.
Up until around the early 90s, McDonald’s actually cooked their fries in beef tallow. They decided to go away from this process, but to try to maintain the flavor, they started using natural beef flavor mixed with the oil that the fries were prepared with.
When they made this switch, an apparent lack of transparency led towards McDonald’s being sued by vegetarians and Hindus. McDonald’s ended up issuing an apology and paid $10 million.
Now, McDonald’s lays out their process for how they cook their fries in the FAQs regarding if they add any type of flavoring to their fries when they are being prepared:
Yes. When our suppliers partially fry our cut potatoes, they use an oil blend that contains beef flavoring. This ensures the great-tasting and recognizable flavor we all love from our World Famous Fries®. The fries are cooked in our kitchens, seasoned with salt, and served hot to you.
Considering the hash browns are listed with basically the same ingredients as the fries, we have to assume that the process for the two menu items are the same.
McDonald’s Hash Browns Ingredients
We couldn’t find a de facto ingredients list sheet for McDonald’s (at least not in the past decade–we did find one from what looked to be 2007).
In lieu of an official list, McDonald’s does list the ingredients to all their menu items directly on the menu item page itself on the their website.
To find the ingredients for any menu item, in our case the hash browns – go to the online menu, navigate to the hash browns, then scroll down under the pic and quick description. There you’ll find the Nutrition Summary along with the Ingredients & Allergens.
Here are ingredients you’ll find listed there for their hash browns:
Ingredients: Potatoes, Vegetable Oil (canola Oil, Soybean Oil, Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Natural Beef Flavor [wheat And Milk Derivatives]*), Salt, Corn Flour, Dehydrated Potato, Dextrose, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate (maintain Color), Extractives Of Black Pepper. *natural Beef Flavor Contains Hydrolyzed Wheat And Hydrolyzed Milk As Starting IngredientsContains: Wheat, Milk.
Cooked In The Same Fryer That We Use For Donut Sticks Which Contain A Wheat And Milk Allergen.
It’d be understandable, as a vegan, to be annoyed that McDonald’s uses milk derivatives in their fries ingredients. But sadly, that’s not even the biggest issue.
Like we stated at the beginning of this article, McDonald’s used ‘Natural Beef Flavor’ in the preparation of their fried foods including (but not limited to) their hash browns and fries.
Is This How McDonald’s Fries are Prepared Everywhere?
As has been reported all over the internet, this concept of frying items with natural beef flavoring is not the same for other countries. For instance, in the UK, here is what you’ll find in McDonald’s Hash Browns:
Potatoes, Blend of Non-Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils (Sunflower, Rapeseed), Salt, Maize Flour, Dehydrated Potato, Dextrose, Stabiliser (Diphosphates), Black Pepper Extract.
Prepared in the restaurant using non-hydrogenated vegetable oil.
They even get a little ‘Vegan Approved’ badge from the Vegetarian Society.
So, not only is it possible for McDonald’s to change the way they cook their hash browns, they literally already do. Just not here.
What Is Vegan at McDonald’s?
So, if hash browns are not an option, what is vegan at McDonald’s? Well, not much.
We list all of McDonald’s vegan options on our McDonald’s Vegan Guide, but to sum it up, if you’re there for breakfast then you can order the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with NO cream along with some Apple Slices (Not apple pies).
If you’re at McDonald’s for lunch or dinner time then you can try to order, well, the Fruit & Maple Oatmeal with NO cream along with some Apple Slices.
Seriously, we actually suggest on our guide to order a “sandwich” which basically consists of ordering a burger with no burger and asking them to add lettuce. How depressing is that?
We talked earlier this year (2021) about a vegan burger coming to McDonald’s. Now, it’s been announced that McDonald’s will be testing a vegan burger on November 3rd, 2021. Locations where the McPlant burger will be tested out are:
- Irving and Carrollton, Texas
- Cedar Falls, Iowa
- Jennings and Lake Charles, Louisiana
- El Segundo and Manhattan Beach, California
However, that’s just going to make the fact that you can’t “add fries to that” even sadder. And don’t forget to order your McPlant with NO cheese or mayonnaise!