We all know those famous yellow double arches. The iconic salty fries, the Big Mac, the Happy Meal. McDonald’s is perhaps the most popular and well-known fast food chain throughout the world, with nearly 40,000 locations spanning the globe – from Finland to South Africa and Mexico to Japan. Each one unique in its own right, but all serving up their own versions of those same McDonald’s classics at the foundation of the franchise.
With humble beginnings back in the 1950s as a small restaurant in California serving burgers and fries, McDonald’s has grown exponentially and now has a seemingly endless, ever-changing menu – with famous additions over the years like the Filet-O-Fish, the McRib, and the Egg McMuffin.
When it comes down to it, each McDonald’s franchise is still a burgers-and-fries business at its core; so it’s no surprise that the menu isn’t exactly vegan-friendly, and it’s not the best option for vegans. The fast food chain’s vegan options are limited to say the least, especially in the US. So what are your options as a vegan at the world’s most popular burger joint?
Vegan items available on the McDonald’s menu
As much food as there is on the McDonald’s menu, shockingly few items are suitable for vegans. There are only a handful of menu items or meals that can be ordered vegan as-is; the rest of the menu items at McDonald’s are either made with meat or dairy, or fried in animal-derived fats and oils.
While several fast food chains have begun adding vegan options to their menus in recent years, including other burger franchises like Carl’s Jr. and Burger King, unfortunately McDonald’s hasn’t yet joined them in this movement towards a more vegan-friendly menu.
McDonald’s did test a McPlant Burger made with Beyond Meat in 2021 and 2022, but they discontinued testing after poor sales in various US states – so there is currently no plant-based meat on the menu. They also don’t offer non-dairy milk alternatives, so that rules out any vegan-friendly coffee drinks or non-dairy desserts. In more sad news, McDonald’s also dropped all of the salads from their menus in 2020, a few of which were suitable or modifiable for vegans.
Below is a complete (not-so-long) list of food and drink items available on the current McDonald’s menu that are either vegan-friendly as ordered, can be made vegan with a simple modification, or can be asked for a-la-carte.
*It’s also important to note that with the nature of a fast food chain, risk of cross-contamination is fairly high when it comes to fryers and food preparation – all of the below items are generally safe, but this is something to keep in mind if you have a dairy allergy.
|Vegan Breakfast Items||Notes + Required Modifications|
|Fruit & Maple Oatmeal||Sub water for cream|
|English Muffin||Ask for a la carte (plain)|
|Vegan Snack Items||Notes + Required Modifications|
|Vegan Sauces + Condiments||Notes + Required Modifications|
|Sweet ‘N Sour|
|Vegan Coffee Drinks||Notes + Required Modifications|
|Premium Roast Coffee|
|Iced Coffee||No cream|
|Vegan Beverages||Notes + Required Modifications|
|Soda||All varieties: Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Sprite, Dr Pepper, Fanta Orange, Hi-C Orange Lavaburst, Frozen Coca-Cola Classic, Frozen Fanta Blue Raspberry|
|Unsweetened Ice Tea|
|Minute Maid Premium Orange Juice|
|Honest Kids Appley Ever After Organic Juice Drink|
Why aren’t McDonald’s fries vegan?
McDonald’s beloved fries are certainly the main reason most people frequent the franchise in the first place. And typically, fast food menu items like fries and hash browns are safe orders for vegans and vegetarians, because they’re obviously vegetable-based foods that don’t contain dairy or animal products. But you may notice those items are missing from the vegan-friendly list.
So what about McDonald’s fries? Why aren’t they vegan? While the ingredients themselves are vegan-safe, it comes down to the way they’re actually fried. Until the 1990s, McDonald’s deep-fried their famous french fries in beef tallow, and then switched to vegetable oil that was mixed with a natural beef flavoring (this was unbeknownst to the general public, which led to backlash and lawsuits).
This beef flavoring, intended to mimic the taste and characteristics of the original recipe, contains milk proteins – which means anything fried in this oil is not vegan-friendly. Since the hash browns are fried the same way, unfortunately McDonald’s fries and hash browns don’t make the cut when it comes to vegan-friendly items.
McDonald’s international locations are leading the way
It’s true that McDonald’s has not exactly stepped up to the plate as far as offering vegan-friendly meals or menu items throughout the US – but many of its counterparts around the world, especially in Europe, have launched vegan products on their menus and seem to be embracing a more vegan-friendly approach.
The McDonald’s McPlant was first launched in the UK in 2021, and the fully vegan burger made with dairy-free cheese and plant-based mayo is now widely available throughout Europe and beyond. Plant-based burgers can be found on McDonald’s menus in Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Austria, and more.
Meanwhile, McDonald’s Germany is joining the McPlant crew, and as of this year they are the first to offer plant-based McNuggets, made with wheat, corn, and pea protein and fried in a tempura batter. Several countries offer whole vegan menus, with items like the Vegetable Deluxe, Veggie Dippers, and a Spicy Veggie wrap.
And perhaps the best news: the fries are vegan, too! Many locations abroad cook their fries in a non-hydrogenated oil blend without the use of any animal fats or byproducts, so unlike the US most countries offer fries and hash browns that are fully vegan-friendly.
While there are no known plans for McDonald’s to expand vegan menu offerings in the US, these great strides across the globe in recent years offer a glimmer of hope that it’s a possibility in the future.
McDonald’s McPlant Burger is available throughout several countries in the UK and Europe, but after poor testing in the US, McDonald’s discontinued the McPlant in 2022. It’s no longer found on any US menus.
Unfortunately, McDonald’s fries are not vegan. This is due to the oil that they’re fried in, which is mixed with a natural beef flavoring that contains dairy. There are vegan fries available in many countries internationally, which do not use any animal byproducts in their oil.
McDonald’s hash browns are not vegan; while their ingredients are vegan, they are prepared the same way as McDonlad’s fries – in an animal-derived oil blend. Several countries outside of the US offer vegan hash browns, since they do not use animal fats or byproducts to fry them.
McDonald’s Baked Apple Pie contains no eggs, milk, or dairy. However, it is made with L-Cysteine, which is a common dough conditioner that’s derived from animal feathers. This is a controversial ingredient when it comes to vegan diets, so this comes down to a personal choice.
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