Did you know that McDonald's changed its original french fry recipe in 1990? Malcolm Gladwell of Revisionist History uncovers the story behind McDonald's french fries, what made the original fries so delectable, and why the burger conglomerate was forced to change its beloved recipe. Since the start of its history in the '40s, McDonald's fried its potato pieces in beef tallow. For years, the fry fat was known as "Formula 47," and it's what gave McDonald's fries its signature crispy exterior, fluffy interior, and rich, unbeatable flavor. Ray Kroc, the businessman responsible for expanding McDonald's into a megafranchise, waxed poetically about these french fries in his book Grinding It Out and claimed the making of McDonald's french fries was "sacrosanct" — in other words, the exceptional process and perfect result shouldn't be touched.
However, one American by the name of Phil Sokolof spent roughly $14 million campaigning against saturated foods, like McDonald's french fries. Having survived a heart attack, he made it his life's mission to influence major food companies to remove saturated fats from popular foods. He paid for big billboards in Times Square to Super Bowl ad spots, threatening companies with more highly positioned ads unless they swiftly removed saturated fats from the foods. Sokolof's efforts reached millions, and he eventually targeted McDonald's.
Due to the public pressure, McDonald's eventually complied in 1990 and began frying its potatoes for the first time ever in vegetable oil (a mix of canola, corn, and soybean). Little did McDonald's (or the rest of the world) know the unpleasant side effects that would incur. First of all, the taste and texture suffered. Malcolm Gladwell isn't the only American who recalls trying the new fries and immediately feeling disappointment and (dare I add) grief that he would never be able to enjoy the "World's Famous Fries" ever again. The heat of the fryers mixed with the oil spews a mist that coats the entire restaurant (so that's why McDonald's chairs and tables are always sticky), plus the overalls worn by fry workers, if stacked on top of one another, have been known to spontaneously combust! And we haven't even gone into the health concerns — I recommend listening to the full episode for more information on aldehydes.
Curious to see how today's millennials would respond to the old fries compared to the new ones, Malcolm went to a Mattson Food Lab, where he had some of America's top food scientists re-create both batches of fries for blind tasting. The results were unanimous. Everyone, including the Mattson scientists, Malcolm, and the millennials loved the OG beef tallow fries. McDonald's, please bring these sublime fries back!
Even if it's not going to happen in this lifetime, you can try making a similar version at home. Mattson scientists fried peeled russet potato matchsticks in beef tallow heated to 350° to 360°F for roughly three minutes. French fry heaven ensues.