If you look at a dozen “most popular fast food menu item” types of lists, you are probably going to see french fries in the #1 spot. Fries will always be a wildly popular menu item with customers and, as we’ll see, a favorite for the fast food chains themselves. The problem? Fast food fries are not very healthy. While you don’t enjoy the occasional fast food meal in hopes of nutritional excellence, you’ll be surprised at the extra ingredients that your favorite fast-food restaurant fries are hiding. Here are eight french fry secrets that restaurants don’t want you to know. Plus, don’t miss 20 Secrets About Fast Food You Never Knew.
The price markups on fries are wild.
Fries are an amazingly great bargain for fast food restaurants, not for you. According to The Street, a fast food chain can usually get a pound of potatoes for about 15 cents but can sell them as fries for about $6 per pound. That’s a markup of a wild 3,900% and it’s why these restaurants love moving along a lot of fries.
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Fast food fries are designed to be addictive.
In the case of McD’s, it’s added beef flavor (see below), with others, it’s the spices. Some chains even add sugars and extra fats. And last year, Wendy’s went so far as to release a physically redesigned shape of French fry, per Nation’s Restaurant News, that features one side of the fry left thick for heat retention while the other side is cut thinner for ideal crunch.
McDonald’s fries feature an artificial beef flavoring.
McDonald’s French fries are arguably the most popular fast food side on the planet, and they are so popular for one reason above all else: their taste comes thanks to an artificial beef flavoring. That artificial flavoring is used to mimic the taste the chain’s fries had back in the day when they were fried in beef tallow. According to the McDonald’s site, the artificial beef flavoring is derived from wheat and milk derivatives and it is suitable for vegetarians.
Carl’s Jr./Hardee’s fries have up to 23 ingredients.
And 23 is a staggering number of ingredients to be found in fries, a food where, in truth, only three are needed: potatoes, salt, and the oil in which they are cooked.
But per Food Beast, in the fries from these partnered chains, you may well find “potatoes, vegetable oil (which may contain one or more of the following: canola oil, sunflower oil, cottonseed oil, palm oil, corn oil, or soybean oil), modified food starch, rice flour, dextrin, salt, leavening (disodium dihydrogen pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), dextrose, xanthan gum.” And they could be fried in “vegetable oil (soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid to protect flavor, dimethylpolysiloxane (as an antifoaming agent)).” Phew!
And they aren’t the only chain with extra ingredients, be sure to check out the nutritional information, available by law for every fast-food website to see what you’re eating. Five Guys fries have just potatoes, refined peanut oil, and salt. But McDonald’s fries contain “potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat And milk derivatives]*), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), and salt.”
Most fast food fries are pre-cut and frozen.
At a few fast food chains, like In-n-Out and Five Guys, employees really do cut fresh potatoes into fries right there at the restaurant. But most chains use fries that arrive pre-cut in huge bags and the fries are either frozen or have been dehydrated. Unless they claim to have fresh-cut fries, you can be sure that they don’t.
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The fries are even saltier than you think
According to the FDA, an average adult should consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. One order of large fries from McDonald’s has at least 400 milligrams. A small “Classic” fries from Burger King has 732 milligrams of sodium. An order of Five Guys Style fries has a staggering 962 milligrams of sodium. So ask them to go light on the salt, something you do have control over.
Many fries also contain hidden sugars and extra starches.
Remember those long list of ingredients above? Many restaurants add dextrose to their french fries which is a sugar made from corn or wheat that helps fries to brown. You’ll also find dextrin, corn starch, potato starch, and leavenings, all in the business of making your fries brown, crispy, and delicious for longer periods of time.