McDonalds Fries Sleeve - ©

Sunday Musings: The Debate About ‘Natural Beef Flavouring’

In short, it’s about whether McDonald’s Fries really are vegetarian. They’re advertised in some countries as using ‘Natural Beef Flavouring’ – but McD’s says there are no animal ingredients in them. And the official explanation from McD’s is kind of ambiguous.

McFries scatter - © Polina TankilevitchMcDonald’s Fries DO NOT contain any meat or other animal source products
in spite of the listing ‘Natural Beef Flavouring’ on the ingredients list.

Here’s the skinny…

When many folks hear the phrase, ‘Natural Beef Flavouring’, they assume there’s real meat material in it. Not necessarily so. In fact, it’s a problem of false perception that goes back to the long fumbled misunderstanding of the words ‘natural’ and ‘pure’ in connection with food.

I once got in a heated argument with a college roomie about her misuse (and misunderstanding) of the word ‘pure’. She thought the term, as used on her jar of fruit jam, meant it was ‘pure’, as in clean (and even sterile), unsullied by preservatives, flavour or texture-enhancing additives and whatever else she fancied ‘pure’ meant. I pointed out that the term ‘pure’, in that contest, meant only that it was made exclusively from Strawberries and no other fruit or other material masquerading as fruit.

Blew up at me

She blew up in my face, and accused me of being an idiot, and what did I know about it, anyway?

I pointed to the long-standing dilemma about the popular Chinese condiment ‘Plum Sauce’. It’s commonly made of pumpkin purée with flavouring and texturizing additives. No plums at all. She challenged my assertion. I brought out a bottle from the fridge. The label clearly showed pumpkin purée. And no plums. She was boggled to speechlessness.

I said, “Think of it this way: I could offer you pure arsenic’. That would definitely not connote that it was any safe to eat. Quite the opposite, actually. It would just mean that the manufacturer warranted it uncontaminated with other chemicals.”

“You’re impossible!” she fumed. And left the room before we could get into a logical or philosophical argument about how ‘possible’ or not I might really be.

Same deal with ‘Natural’

Any food labelled ‘natural’ begs the misunderstanding that it’s composed of or contains ‘real’ whatever the adjective ‘natural’ is describing. No so. What it really means (as is the case in the example of ‘natural’ beef flavouring) is that the ingredients used in the flavouring are not artificial, or created in a laboratory. It just means the ingredients come from natural sources. McDonald’s beef fry flavouring is, in fact, a combination of ingredients that occur in nature.

Gary Reineccius, a food chemist, told Eater: “The flavor of beef is created during the cooking process. Food scientists identified the amino acids found in beef, added some very common sugars — starch hydrolysate — put it in a pot, added some citric acid to drop the pH, controlled moisture content, and heated it to the same temperature as meat. Then… *Poof!*– we have meat flavor.”

Not a single one of the ingredients made in a lab or in any way artificial. Though some may be extracted from primary vegetable sources by simple procedures no more complex than cooking.

Alas! The ‘natural beef flavouring’ used on McD’s fries is not vegan – though it is generally accepted as vegetarian. Milk (a dairy product, of course) is used as a ‘staring point’ in the flavouring process.

To underline the point…

There is no meat – beef for otherwise – in the ‘natural beef flavouring’ of McDonald’s Fries. Back in the 1950s, beef fat was used to cook the fries. Because it was the cheapest thing the McDonald brothers could find. But over time, animal fats were eliminated from McD’s frying oils in favour of non-saturated, vegetable sources which were healthier. Of course the flavour of the fries changed with the flavour of the various oils they tried. But then somebody thought to look for a way to add back the famous flavour which has been credited with elevating McD’s above the competition from the beginning.

Now you know. Sleep more contentedly tonight, enjoy your McFries without guilt…

And muse on that!

~ Maggie J.