(Updated May 26, 2019.) The most famous fast-food chain on the planet is welcoming more vegan offerings than ever to its golden arches.
McDonald’s, the quintessential American hamburger joint, first fired up its grill in 1940, serving burgers, fries, and milkshakes. Little could the McDonald’s brothers Richard and Maurice know that their humble California hamburger stand would go on to become one of the largest restaurant chains on the planet, serving up quick, cheap food in more than 100 countries and more than 37,000 locations.
The industry colossus has received a makeover in the past couple of decades, putting emphasis upon sourcing quality ingredients and adopting a policy of transparency regarding its nutritional labeling. McDonald’s has also begun offering healthier menu options such as salads, smoothies, and fruit bags to add some five-a-day goodness to its offerings.
However, the fast-food giant has yet to release a plant-based protein option, unlike its competitors who have been quick to update their menus with the likes of the Impossible burger and Beyond Burger.
McDonald’s CEO, Steve Easterbrook explained the decision to hold back as a matter of “simplicity” to Business Insider. When the brand is trying to focus on streamlining its menu, there are two key questions regarding new offerings: “Is there an additional complexity? And if there is, is that complexity worth it?“
According to Easterbrook, McDonald’s is paying “close attention to and internally discussing vegan and plant-based menu items.” However, there isn’t much more to say “at the moment.“
In recent years, the company has become more observant of animal welfare issues as well, winning the RSPCA Assured’s Food Service Award for commitment to Farm Animal Welfare in 2017. McDonald’s also announced in 2015 that it would stop using battery eggs and vowed that all of its suppliers would be cage-free by 2025.
On its “Scale for Good” section of its website, McDonald’s explains that it developed a set of Guiding Principles for Animal Health and Welfare.
“Quality: We believe treating animals with care and respect is an integral part of our commitment to serving McDonald’s customers safe food. Healthy animals provide safe food.”
According to its own figures released in 2017, McDonalds’ net worth is around $106.4 billion. The market leader lists environment protection and sustainability as parts of its business model and outlines plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 36 percent. McDonalds’ eco-friendly goal is to be achieved through initiatives such as sourcing locally, using LED lights, and improving the recyclability of its packaging. In fact, McDonald’s announced that by 2025 100 percent of its guest packaging will come from renewable, recycled, or certified sources.
Part of the fast food giant’s success is its observation of global trends and national markets. As such, the company tailors its worldwide menus to include aspects of local cuisine and meet socio-cultural and religious dietary requirements. Movie fans may remember the European nomenclature of the Big Mac being famously discussed by John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Quentin Tarantino’s cult 1994 film, “Pulp Fiction.”
In Israel for example, 50 of the country’s 180 branches are strictly Kosher, and even some of the non-Kosher branches will provide dairy-free desserts if asked. All of Saudi Arabia’s McDonald’s restaurants are certified Halal, and in 2013, McDonald’s opened its first fully vegetarian restaurant in Amritsar, Northern India. McDonald’s Indian menu is particularly varied, with exclusive products like its Veg Pizza McPuff and McSpicy Paneer being top sellers. The McAloo Tikki, made from potato and spices, has also been released in the U.S. One of its top sellers in India, it’s currently the only vegan burger option on offer by the chain in the U.S.
Plant-based foods are a key market area for food retailers, as in recent years there has been a global increase in the number of vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians. The vegan revolution is so widespread that it is making waves in Kenya, Mexico, and in the UK; data released in 2018 suggested that the numbers of British vegans had increased by 700 percent in just two years.
McDonald’s Vegan Options
But, the chain did not get to the hamburger heights of serving 69 million customers a day by avoiding change, and the global company has made several vegan additions to its menu in the last couple of years. These plant-based provisions are being served up at McDonald’s counters across the world, so whether you’re in Helsinki or Huddersfield, here is everything you need for ordering vegan at McDonald’s.
How to Eat Vegan at McDonald’s
1. The Spicy Veggie One
Wrapped up tight in a floury tortilla are McDonald’s new red pepper and pesto goujons, made of yellow split peas, arborio rice, and sundried tomato pesto. This new item was added to McDonald’s UK menus in early 2019 and the wrap is approved by the Vegetarian Society. It gets its spiciness from the fiery vegan jalapeño relish.
2. The Happy Meal Veggie Wrap
The Happy Meal was first launched as a child-friendly combo back in 1979 and forty years later, the first vegan kids’ option hit UK McDonald’s. Instead of being covered in spicy relish, the goujons are sauced up with dairy-free red pesto and wrapped in a slightly smaller flour tortilla. For £2.79, parents can treat their child to the vegan wrap meal, which comes with a drink and small fries. McDonald’s has made a shrewd move by incorporating more vegan-friendly meal choices into its menu, especially the Happy Meal addition. With the number of people opting for vegan food accelerating at breakneck speed, it is unsurprising that the market for children is also growing rapidly. A study conducted in 2018 revealed that out of its focus group of 2,200 UK parents, one in 12 is raising their children vegan.
McDonald’s said that it decided to introduce more vegan-friendly options following a customer poll which revealed 33 percent wanted more meat-free options from the chain. The Happy Meal, in particular, is receiving rave reviews from parents including singer Frankie Bridge, who told the Huffington Post UK that having more meal options for children makes her life “all the easier and the Veggie Happy Meal wrap flavor was literally chosen by children, so I know it’s something that my son Parker will love too.
“I think it’s important that our diet is varied and full of choice, and for me at the moment, this means introducing more meat-free meals.”
While the Happy Meal has proved highly successful with minor McDonald’s fans, there really is no good reason why adults shouldn’t be rewarded with a little toy at the end of their lunch, too.
3. Vegetable Deluxe
The Vegetable Deluxe, which is available at all UK McDonald’s restaurants, also contains the toothsome goujons. In this offering, the goujons are sandwiched in a sesame seed bun with lashings of lettuce. This veggie burger can easily be made vegan, just ask the person serving you to hold the sandwich sauce which contains egg yolk.
4. The McAloo Tikki
One of Indian McDonald’s bestsellers, this tasty bit of Eastern spice was rolled out at McDonald’s global USA headquarters restaurant in Chicago at the end of 2018. Named after its main potato component (aloo is the Hindi word for potato), the vegan patty is made of spuds, peas, and plenty of spices before being sandwiched between two burger buns with salad and vegan tomato mayo. At present, the Indian offering is only being served at the one U.S. branch but is sold throughout its 300 restaurants in India.
5. Vegan Vegetable Nuggets
One of the few plant-based additions to forgo the ‘Mc’ prefix, these fried little mouthfuls of delight are a fully vegan alternative to McDonald’s traditional McNuggets. Made with hearty ingredients such as cauliflower, chickpeas, and carrots, the nuggets are then coated in crisp breadcrumb and fried. The vegan nuggets were introduced this month to McDonald’s Norway branches and are one of several new Nordic additions to the company’s vegan menu.
6. Falafel Nuggets Happy Meal
McDonald’s Sweden introduced falafel nuggets as a Happy Meal earlier in 2019. The new nuggets are bite-sized servings of the classic middle eastern dish, made with chickpeas, onions, and cumin and served with a red pepper sauce.
Most of McDonald’s new vegan options keep it traditional and are made up of wholesome vegetables. A few Brits may remember the short-lived Quorn premier served with chili sauce in the early noughties, but otherwise, the plant-based options are usually overtly veggie. However, for meat reducers or people following a flexitarian diet, having plant-based foods mimicking the texture of meat is a fantastic way to enable people to reduce their meat consumption.
With this in mind, the next two McOfferings are a little more meaty.
7. The McVegan
Since its launch across Finland at the end of 2017, this McVegan has become a major hit with Scandinavian McDonald’s patrons. Made by Swedish company Orkla, the soy-based patty gets its flavor from onions and mushrooms, while tomato powder gives it a beefy hue. The McVegan proved so popular in Finland, it was rolled out to Swedish branches in early 2018. A trailblazer for the Nordic fast food market, McDonald’s Finland sold 150,000 McVegan burgers in the month following its launch. To put that in perspective, Finland’s national population is only 5.5 million, so just under three percent of the country were clamoring for a taste of the McVegan. That would be like 1.3 million Brits queuing up for a new vegan goody.
8. The El Veggo
In 2018, Finnish McDonald’s launched a second vegan burger nationwide named the El Veggo. Unlike the more umami McVegan, the burger has a spicy salsa flavor and is topped with vegan McFeast sauce. The burger was limited edition, only available for the month of December. However, the McVegan was also not intended to be a permanent Finnish menu item, so only time will tell.
The increase of vegan eaters is leading market trends in Scandinavia. As Camilla Björkbom of the Association of Animal Rights comments, the sales of vegan products have “exploded” in recent years.
“It is a very positive trend for the animals, where we can see that more and more people choose [vegan] more or less regularly,” she told the BBC. “[B]ut without necessarily defining themselves as vegetarian or vegan.”
9. The Big Vegan
McDonald’s Germany offers the “Big Vegan TS” burger. The sandwich consists of Nestlé’s new Garden Gourmet “Incredible Burger,” a plant-based patty made from a blend of soy and wheat protein. It comes serves on a bun with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, ketchup, and mustard. According to McDonald’s Germany, it’s cooked separately to avoid cross-contamination with animal fats.
10. Apple Pies
In keeping with its stars and stripes background, McDonald’s apple pies are vegan-friendly and sold at all restaurants across the world. There is nothing quite so satisfying as biting through the crisp sugary batter to the (occasionally scalding) hot fruit filling.
Other vegan-friendly options include the green salad, without any dressings, the hash browns in UK branches (not in U.S. chains).
11. French Fries
There is something wonderfully reassuring about the McDonald’s french fry. For those in the U.S. seeking a veggie fry, this one’s not for you as they’re fried in beef fat. But in the UK and elsewhere, that’s not the case. These hot slithers of spud are particular to McDonald’s, with no imitation quite capturing that mix of slightly chewy, salty crunch. The McDonald’s fry is beyond moreish and one of the few occasions you will ever hear a person from the UK refer to hot slices of fried potato as anything other than chips.
12. Cucumber Fries
In France, McDonald’s has ditched fries for cucumbers in its Happy Meals. Sourced from local farms, the chain has made the move with the intention of promoting vegetables to children. Around the world, customers can buy Happy Meals with fruit bags, tomatoes, and carrot sticks.