The Untold Truth Of McDonald's Szechuan Sauce

Released in 1998 to promote the Disney film "Mulan," McDonald's Szechuan Sauce was propelled into the spotlight almost two decades later after it was referenced in the popular adult cartoon, "Rick and Morty." (via Complex). After the episode aired, the sauce was suddenly elevated to cult-like status, with fans of the show paying upward of $1000 for the privilege of tearing open a packet of the condiment, as Time reported. Seeing an advertising opportunity, McDonald's re-released Szechuan Sauce in 2017 and later in 2018 with mixed results due to supply issues.

The fast food giant brought back the coveted sauce "for just a few days" starting March 31, 2022. But there was one crucial difference. Unlike its past releases, this time Szechuan Sauce was only available through the McDonald's app. That's where it could be ordered as a free dipping option for Chicken McNuggets. The condiment could also be purchased à la carte, as long as the order didn't exceed five containers, according to a press release provided by McDonald's. 

While this time around the re-release of the McDonald's sauce seems to have gone more smoothly, the franchise has had various issues with the condiment in the past. Here is the untold truth of McDonald's Szechuan Sauce.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce was released to promote a Disney film

McDonald's first released its Szechuan Sauce for the 1998 premiere of Disney's "Mulan." Based on a Chinese legend, the film tells the story of a young woman who disguises herself as a man to replace her father in a battle against the invading Huns (via Mulan Book). The promotional tie-in was a limited-time offer that came as a part of the Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, which also included Mulan toys (via People). Tom Ryan, the SVP of menu management at McDonald's in 1998, deemed the move a marketing success. "Chicken McNuggets in that era were really popular with kids. There are kids who know how to say chicken nuggets before they know how to say their parents' names," he told Mic.

The release of Szechuan Sauce was a part of a strategic partnership between Disney and McDonald's. Earlier the same year, McDonald's sponsored a part of the newly opened Disney's Animal Kingdom. The franchise also had kiosks in various Disney parks across the U.S. The campaign only lasted between June 17 — two days before "Mulan" was released — and July 2 when it was promptly replaced by promotions for another Disney creation, "Armageddon." (via MovieFone). 

Some fans of the sauce were hopeful that McDonald's would bring back the condiment in conjunction with the release of a live-action "Mulan" remake in 2020, even starting a petition to that effect on However, it looks like their appeal fell on deaf ears.

The sauce's promotional material met heavy criticism

While "Mulan" ended up stealing the hearts of children across America and bringing in $54.2 million in the first two weeks after release, McDonald's Szechuan Sauce attracted its fair share of controversy (via Entertainment Weekly). In particular, the sauce was heavily criticized for its advertising campaign, which many called out for being racist.

"The last thing Asian-Americans need is a sauce to obscure the diversity of their cultures in the same shade of faceless, nationless, Western-approved brown," wrote Yasmin Tayag for Inverse. Equally disheartened, the publisher of A. Magazine, Jeff Yang, called the Szechuan Sauce campaign "the equivalent of a drive-by mooning" (via Entertainment Weekly).

So what parts of the advertising campaign were found to be so problematic? Suna Chang from Entertainment Weekly zeroed in on what she believes to be ethnic stereotyping, such as a headband-wearing Ronald McDonald enacting karate moves and jokes about sitting on floors to eat. Chang also pointed to culturally insensitive puns printed on the Chicken McNugget packaging, which included the likes of "McNuggets are Chinamite!" and "Run, don't wok..."

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce isn't exactly inspired by Szechuan cuisine

According to a McDonald's press release, Szechuan Sauce "has a savory and slightly sweet taste profile with hints of soy, garlic, ginger, and mild vinegar notes." While the condiment's name implies that it's inspired by Szechuan cuisine, many have questioned this culinary connection. 

Also spelled Sichuan, Szechuan, which is one of China's 34 provinces, has a culinary tradition characterized by hot peppers and heavy spice usage (via Travel China Guide). So how does the Szechuan Sauce measure up to the real thing? "Remember, it had to be relevant for kids, so you couldn't do anything spicy, even though the name was Szechuan," former SVP of menu management at McDonald's, Tom Ryan told Mic. Perhaps this explains why Michael Walsh, who reviewed the sauce for Nerdist, never mentioned any hints of spice, instead noting that it held a pleasing balance between salty and sweet, with a significant hint of ginger.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce appeared on "Rick and Morty"

After its brief release in 1998, Szechuan Sauce went off the radar for almost two decades. However, the condiment experienced a revival after it was mentioned on Adult Swim's animated sci-fi satire "Rick and Morty" on April Fool's Day 2017. The premiere episode of season 3 saw main character Rick rambling about his penchant for the condiment. "I want that Mulan McNugget sauce, Morty," says Rick. "That's my series arc, Morty. If it takes nine seasons, I want my McNugget dipping sauce Szechuan sauce" (via Thrillist).

In no time, the geeky gag had fans of the show begging McDonald's to re-release the nugget sauce. Whether out of a sense of nostalgia or curiosity, a petition to bring back the condiment attracted over 45,000 signatures. Viewers also implored the franchise to re-release the sauce on social media. The Amazing Atheist expressed his frustration on Twitter, posting, "Alright McDonald's, you saw 'Rick and Morty.' We saw 'Rick and Morty.' You know what we want. Make it Happen." Spurred by the free advertising, McDonald's succumbed to the hype, bringing the sauce back to participating restaurants for one day on October 7, 2017 (via McDonald's).

The re-release of McDonald's Szechuan Sauce was a disaster

The October 7, 2017 re-release of McDonald's Szechuan Sauce was a debacle. On the day of the condiment's release, "Rick and Morty" enthusiasts stormed McDonald's outlets across the country in the hope of tasting Rick's "series arc." The demand was so overwhelming that many outlets ran out of the sauce almost instantly, according to Thrillist.

The huge difference between the supply and demand outraged "Rick and Morty" aficionados, some of whom were told that certain stores only received 20 containers of the sauce, as Thrillist reports. Some fans even staged mini-riots, as depicted on Twitter that sees young "Rick and Morty" fans chanting in front of a McDonald's counter. As per another Twitter user, police even had to be called to a McDonald's outlet in Wellington, Florida.

McDonald's was quick to respond with an apology, tweeting, "The best fans in the multiverse showed us what they got today. We hear you & we're sorry not everyone could get some super-limited Szechuan" (via Thrillist). The fast food franchise also made a promise to release the sauce again, which happened in 2018, when 20 million packets of Szechuan Sauce became available at the chain's locations across the country, per Forbes.

McDonald's Szechuan Sauce has been sold for inflated prices online

The popularity and scarcity of McDonald's Szechuan Sauce have driven some of the condiment's fans to shell out top dollar for just a taste. Ahead of the sauce's 2017 re-release, a fan who won a 64-ounce bottle of the condiment auctioned it — as well as a Pelican camera case — on eBay, attracting bids of over $15,000. "I won this in an official giveaway and now I'm auctioning it off here to help out others and pay a few bills. Don't miss this incredible item," the hopeful seller posted on the platform.

The eBay post was not a one-off. Another bottle of McDonald's Szechuan Sauce, released in 1998, sold on eBay for $14,700 in 2017. "I just bought a really old car, while cleaning it I found a packet of this sauce," the listing stated (via Time). McDonald's Szechuan Sauce is currently selling on eBay for a far less eye-popping $9.99 per container, with the post referring to it as a "collectible item."

Someone once traded a car for a single container of sauce

When McDonald's re-released its Szechuan Sauce on October 7, 2017, 23-year-old Rachel Marie got up early and headed to her local Mcdonald's. However, instead of devouring the dipping sauce she purchased, Marie had other ideas. She posted a picture of the unopened sauce on Pin Nation, a Facebook group that also happened to include fans of "Rick and Morty." "There was actually a large response with some nice pins," she told Business Insider. "But if I could get a car, I thought, why not ask?" And so she did.

It wasn't long before she was offered an early 2000s Volkswagen Golf Mk4. While the transaction hadn't been verified by Business Insider, both the seller and buyer confirmed that the trade did take place. In fact, the buyer of the condiment contacted Business Insider via Facebook Messenger telling the publication that he "just needed me some friggin sauce!!" According to Thrillist, a VW Golf from the 2000s can fetch between $2,000 and $3,000, provided that it's in good condition.