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The History of McDonald’s Fries

The McDonald brothers started what is now a burger empire with a single hamburger stand in California in the late 1940s. They reportedly purchased their frying oil from Interstate Foods, a shortening company that provided clients with a blend of beef tallow mixed with a small amount of vegetable oil, because this allowed for an extended shelf life without the use of expensive hydrogenation equipment. When the fries were first introduced (likely sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s) they were packaged in small paper bags; it wasn’t until around 1970 that the packaging was switched to the now-iconic red fry box. Ray Kroc, who played a key role in growing McDonald’s into the massive franchise it is today and eventually purchased the business from the McDonald brothers in the early 1960s, reportedly fell in love with the beef tallow fries when he got involved with the company in the 1950s. He wasn't their only fan — McDonald's fries quickly gained a reputation for being delicious. Around 1962, Lou Martino of the McDonald’s Research and Development Lab perfected the fries even further and even created a device affectionately known as the “potato computer” to standardize and perfect cooking time. McDonald’s signature fries were even enjoyed by discerning food icons like James Beard and Julia Child. In 1966, a business mogul named Phil Sokolof had a heart attack and in response, he founded the National Heart Savers Association and made it his mission to campaign against cholesterol and fat. He campaigned against McDonald’s, especially their fries, and spent several decades and millions of dollars on his cause. In 1990, he succeeded when McDonald’s announced that they would be changing their fry recipe. Instead of frying in beef tallow, they began using 100% vegetable fat. They also added “natural beef flavor” to compensate for the removal of the beef tallow. Unfortunately, it was later learned that the trans fats in hydrogenated vegetable oil posed serious health concerns, and McDonald’s changed their fry recipe again around 2007 in order to cook the fries in vegetable oil with less trans fat. Today, their fries reportedly contain 19 ingredients and 0 trans fats per serving and are still extremely popular. However, there are many fans of the original fries who still hope that McDonald’s will bring the old recipe back.

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