Is McDonald's Sweet And Spicy Jam Similar To Beloved Szechuan Sauce?

In October 2023, McDonald's announced the launch of two brand-new sauces with a slew of promotional content across social media. The fast food giant even took a documentary deep-dive into the cultural origins of its new Mambo sauce alongside chefs from the D.C. area, where it's a local classic. However, the chain's other new sauce, Sweet & Spicy Jam, didn't get the same treatment. This might seem odd until you read the ingredients list, at which point you may realize it can go viral all on its own.

McDonald's announcement touted its Sweet & Spicy Jam as a "jammy red pepper sauce with a Szechuan peppercorn kick and extra heat from cayenne pepper; finished with apple cider vinegar." The sauce makers at Golden Arches HQ knew exactly what they were invoking with this recipe. Szechuan (or Sichuan) peppercorns are a kind of dried berry that acts as a mild anesthetic, numbing the mouth and creating a pleasurable tingling on the tongue when eaten. Sichuan peppercorns were once banned in the U.S. but reached fast food notoriety in 1998 with McDonald's most famous limited-time sauce offering: the Szechuan dipping sauce released to promote Disney's "Mulan." But is McDonald's new Sweet & Spicy Jam a match for the sauce so popular that a single limited-edition packet got traded for a 2004 Volkswagen?

Sweet & Spicy Jam

McDonald's Sweet & Spicy Jam, which launched on October 9, is the chain's first-ever breakfast-inspired sauce. It's a peppery jam with a kick in its tail, designed to enhance Sausage McMuffins and Egg & Cheese Biscuits. Despite these a.m. pairings, the sauce is available all day long.

The sauce's fruit base is red peppers, which are boiled into a sugar syrup and made into a jam. This sweet, sticky substance is spiked with apple cider vinegar for tang and cayenne pepper for a familiar burn. The same ingredients in different quantities can also be found in sweet chili sauces and pepper jams from Tennessee to Thailand. What sets Sweet & Spicy Jam apart, though, is the addition of mouth-numbing Szechuan peppercorns to its spice mix.

According to Mashed reporter Steven Luna, who reviewed Sweet & Spicy Jam upon its release, the cayenne's potentially explosive impact and the Szechuan peppers are moderated greatly by the red pepper's sweet, fruity notes. Luna said the spice levels stayed "at a simmer instead of rising to a sear," concluding that the Sweet & Spicy Jam tasted "similar to an Asian sweet and sour sauce with a bit more burn." The sauce certainly sounds like an intriguing addition to a breakfast sandwich, but how does it compare to McDonald's classic Szechuan sauce?

Szechuan sauce

Szechuan sauce's initial limited run lasted only as long as Disney's 1998 film "Mulan" was in theaters. The Szechuan renaissance didn't arrive for another two decades, when Rick Sanchez, the irreverent mad-scientist star of Cartoon Network's "Rick and Morty," revealed that his desire to return to 1998 and get more Szechuan sauce was the only motivation strong enough to inspire him to invent time travel.

The show has a huge millennial following, and many of its fans already idolized Rick, which may explain the hype, but what about Szechuan sauce's taste, and how does it compare to the new Sweet & Spicy Jam? Well, it's probably a good thing that McDonald's new offering is being called a breakfast sauce — when Eater writer Robert Sietsema got his hands on the Szechuan sauce during the February 2018 release, he said, "the sauce was the color and consistency of strawberry jelly," and, "You might just as well pour this Szechuan sauce on pancakes."

Although copycat McDonald's Szechuan Sauce recipes took care to include a variety of spices, the ingredients list (and reviewers' testimonies) indicate a sweet, sticky sauce with barely a hint of spice. Perhaps the new Sweet & Spicy Jam is McDonald's attempt to make a better version of the beloved classic.