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Dec 19, 2000 08:20 AM

Why McDonald's Fries Taste So Good

  • j

The Atlantic Monthly has just put up its January issue, and it includes an article by Eric Schlosser (subject of some contentious posts now playing on this and other Chowhound forums), author of "Fast Food Nation," due out in January.

This article is about flavor, and includes the following sentence: "About 90 percent of the money that Americans now spend on food goes to buy processed food." Wow!

The article also asks the question: After all the various production processes rob food of so much natural flavor, what do companies do to put some back?



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  1. Speaking of which, I really wish McDonald's would have a 20th anniversary special menu featuring fries cooked in beef tallow (as they once were). It's not fair that I never got to taste them!

    6 Replies
    1. re: John Tracey
      Simon Majumdar

      Ah One of the few joys of living in the UK.

      Good old fish and chips continue to be cooked this way. Well, in the best places.

      you are indeed missing out

      1. re: Simon Majumdar

        While fish and chips may be cooked the old fashioned way in UK, one my recent trip to London, folks there complained about the McDonaldization of London, specially near their CBD (or Downtown ;-)).

        I nodded in agreement ;-) and we moved on to do two hour liquid lunch - a phenom fast dying in NYC

      2. re: John Tracey

        Oh, those beef-tallow-cooked fries were good....

        And before JR Simplot made billions with industrial fries, I remember standing outside the red-and-white tiled McD's and watching as a sack of fresh russets was dumped into a shiny hopper...the machine spit out shoestring spuds with bits of peel still on them...mmmmm


        1. re: John Tracey
          Gabriel Solis

          Were they really cooked in tallow, or was it suet? My understanding was that tallow is the rendered beef and lamb fat that is used in various industrial products (soap, candles, lotions, lubricants), and that suet was the rendered beef fat that people ate once upon a time. Have I been mistaken all this time? Is there no difference between suet and tallow? Feel free to answer in a new thread if this has gotten too far away from the McD's conversation.


          1. re: Gabriel Solis

            Suet is specifically the fat from around the kidneys.

          2. re: John Tracey
            Emily Cotlier

            Actually, here in New Zealand, although McDonalds and most fish and chip places have switched to vegetable oil, most frozen french fries at the supermarket are made with beef tallow as the oil. I bought some recently in a fit of PMS craving for shoestring-cut frozen french fries, when the local shop was out of the vegetable-oil ones. (Both kinds are available here: the beef tallow ones are "normal" and the vegetable oil ones are marketed as "Heart Healthy.")

            And you know what? I don't taste much difference. The beef tallow frozen fries taste the same, but seem greasier than,the vegetable oil frozen fries. I have not deep fried the fries in beef tallow, but baked them in the oven. On the other hand, I don't know if they are adding mystery beef-tallow flavoring to the vegetable-oil fries, as the Atlantic Monthly article implies is done at McDonalds.

            Nor do I think that McDonald's fries are the Socratic ideal of french fries--I prefer steak fry-cut ones, myself, deep golden brown with fluffy potatoey insides, or crinkle-cut ones.

            A few years ago, American Vogue magazine had a particularly sadistic food writer/editor (someone who focused on articles about obscenely rich food in a magazine whose pages were populated by matchstick models) who wrote an article about his quest to try french fries fried in horse fat, supposedly the ne plus ultra of fries. He wound up getting the horse fat from Austria or France, I believe, and declared the fries made using it delicious and superior. I might not agree. I don't agree with Vouge magazine about a lot of things.....

          3. I will indeed have to check out this man's book. The article examines one important aspect of an unstoppable industrialization of food in the US.

            Try Cambell's low-sodium soup. Try Ritz crackers without their flavor agents. Try your favorite BBQ sauce without additives and liquid smoke. Processed food is a game with the senses, elaborate illusions more appropriate in petri dishes than dining plates.

            Yet here we are. Our favorite flavors are chemical compounds we can't even pronounce, let alone reproduce, even in lab conditions.

            Where are we going with all of this? Steak popsicles? Pumpkin pie laxatives? Lord, forgive us. We just wanna be like you. When we perfect our French fries, we'll invite you down for a taste test.

            1 Reply
            1. re: andy huse

              It's true! I drove 15 miles out of my way a few months ago to this place in East Brunswick, NJ that has (supposedly) incorporated an Arthur Treacher's joint into its offerings. I just went for hush puppies. Do you know how disgusting they are? I ate at least 15. I couldn't sleep that night from all the salt/God knows what else. Some long dormant craving from my high school years drove me suddenly to drop everything and go on a hunt for this truly awful stuff.

              I think I'd rather have real fries made in beef tallow 10 times a year than eat these chemical fries 50 times. (I certainly do NOT have fries four times a week, which the author says is the average in this country. More like four times a month for me, if that.)

              Don't you worry, also, that IFF or one of the other flavor conglomerates will accidentally pour "Chanel No. 5 essence" into the vat of "Green Pepper Bile #42" one day? Gulp.

            2. My husband,at various times,who has bought and sold Simplot french fries, (who sell to McDonalds) says it is also the practices which make up the french fry that sets them apart from the rest, high grade potato, cut long,not overloading the blanching and frying process etc...