Junk food restaurants don’t want you to know what’s in the stuff they sell you. Here’s a clear example of just how true that is. McDonald’s does a good job of, first, implying that one of their products is 100% meat, and then, if you decide that might not be true, kinda sorta letting you know that it isn’t, but then making it more than a little confusing to find out what’s really in their stuff.
Sick boy with McDonald’s Logo, Photo of Boy by Justus Thane
by Heidi Stevenson
A bit of curiosity had me doing a quick search on Google for “chicken mcnuggets ingredients”. The first item listed was, “What are the ingredients of your Chicken McNuggets? :: McDonald’s”. The website belongs to McDonald’s, so I clicked on it.
The page on McDonald’s website showed the question stated again, followed by what purports to be the answer:
Thank you for your question. McDonald’s Chicken McNuggets are made from 100% chicken breast meat.
Hmmm … Back in my less aware days, I’d eaten that stuff, and therefore suspected that there was something inaccurate about the statement. So, I continued reading:
However, as a percentage of the total recipe when the batter, seasoning and oil to cook the nuggets are taken into account, chicken meat constitutes 45% of the total Chicken McNugget, the other ingredients account for the additional 55%. You can find full ingredients information by clicking ‘Ingredient List’, which is in the ‘Food’ section of www.mcdonalds.co.uk.
Now, that’s interesting. The chicken is only 45% of the whole product. That fits what’s in my memory a bit better. So, I tried to click on “www.mcdonalds.co.uk”. Nothing happened, and then I realized that the problem wasn’t my browser: That text isn’t a link.
So, that made me even more suspicious. First, they’d tried to give the impression that McNuggets are a hundred percent meat, but the very next sentence, in a much smaller font, put the lie to it. In fact, only 45% of a McNugget is meat, and the rest is “other ingredients”—but apparently they really don’t want people to actually read those ingredients, because they didn’t provide a link. So, I copy’n’pasted the link into my browser.
That took me to the main page of the site, which was not reachable from the page I was on—another suspicion-making point.
Of course, there is no “ingredients” menu item or tab or link anywhere on that page, so I moved my cursor to the menu item “Food”. There still wasn’t an “ingredients” item, but there was an item labeled “Chicken” on the submenu. So, I clicked on that.
That took me to a page titled, “Chicken” with a bunch of pictures of all the menu items that contain it, along with their names. So, I hovered my cursor over the Chicken McNuggets and a nice little image popped up with a little graphic that included an image of a nutrition label. But that isn’t what I wanted to know, so I clicked on the popup.
That took me to a page with a big picture of those McNuggets, a big title saying, “Chicken McNuggets and McBites Sharebox”, and an obvious red button that says, “Add to Nutrition Calculator”. It took a minute before I noted the little red plus sign before that button and the words, ”Ingredients and Allergen information”. It didn’t look like a link, but it changed color when my pointer hovered over it, so I figured that it must be and I clicked on it.
Then, another image of the nutrition info, big this time, opened up below the plus sign on that same page.
At first, I figured there weren’t any ingredients there, but scrolled down. And there they were!
On reading them, though, it became clear why finding the ingredients is less than straightforward. Here they are:
EITHER: Chicken (45%), Coating [Vegetable Oil (Rapeseed, Sunflower), Wheat Flour, Water (8%), Maize Flour, Modified Starch, Raising Agents (Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Bicarbonate), Whey Powder (from Milk), Flavour Enhancer (Potassium Chloride), Egg Albumen (Free Range Egg), Ground Pepper, Breadcrumb (Wheat Flour, Salt), Salt, Dextrose, Ground Celery], Water (7%), Potato Starch, Vegetable Oil (Rapeseed, Sunflower), Natural Flavouring (from Free Range Egg), Flavour Enhancer (Potassium Chloride).
OR: Chicken Breast Meat (43%) Water, Flours (Wheat, Maize), Vegetable Oil (Sunflower, Rapeseed), Wheat Semolina, Starches, Modified Starch, Flavourings (contains Gluten), Dried Glucose Syrup, Breadcrumb (Wheat Flour, Salt), Raising Agents (Disodium Diphosphate, Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Potassium Hydrogen Carbonate, Mono-Calcium Phosphate), Potassium Chloride, Spices (Pepper, Celery), Salt, Sugar, Celery Extract. Prepared in the restaurants using a non-hydrogenated vegetable oil
So now that we’ve finally found the ingredients, let’s take a look at them:
There are two sets of ingredients—and apparently, you could get McNuggets made from either list!
Notice that the original statement saying that Chicken McNuggets are all breast meat and that the meat is 45% of the total may not be true. Apparently, McDonald’s has two recipes for McNuggets, but they don’t tell us how to know which one you’ll be getting. If you get the first option, you do get the previously claimed 45% of chicken, but nothing to indicate that it’s breast meat. If you get the second option, you get only 43% chicken, but it is breast meat.
From there, it gets even more confusing. In the first option, it’s made to look like the coating consists of the rest of the ingredients. However, closer inspection reveals otherwise. Notice the bracket [ immediately after the word “Coating”. The coating ingredients are only those specified within the beginning and ending brackets, like so: [ingredient1, ingredient2, … ].
That leaves us to see that the meat also includes 7% water, potato starch, vegetable oil, natural flavoring (which is anything but natural), and potassium chloride as a flavor enhancer. Doesn’t that sound yummy?
Does the first version look like it actually contains 45% meat? No, it does not.
The second option, the one with 43% meat, just mixes the ingredients up. Unsurprisingly, they include a bunch of chemicals and we have no idea how much is in the meat or how much is in the coating, though it probably doesn’t matter, unless you order the stuff and throw over half of it away!
So, though technically McDonald’s abides by the law and provides a list of ingredients, they certainly don’t make it easy. They also try to slip away from it by throwing up the “nutrition” label. The information on those is a farce, as I discuss in Nutrition Labels Are a Bad Joke, Designed to Mislead, Not to Inform. Just remember that nutrition labels do not tell you what chemicals have been added.
It’s up to you, of course, to decided whether to eat the stuff that McDonald’s calls food—but you won’t get me to touch something passed off as food when the seller doesn’t even want me to know what’s in it!