The Untold Truth Of McDonald's Ice Cream

There's ice cream, and then there's McDonald's ice cream. It's the stuff of childhood memories and exciting trips through the drive-thru, and let's face it, sometimes, adulting is rough and a McD's soft serve cone is exactly what you need... provided the McDonald's ice cream machine is working that day.

It's been a staple on McDonald's menu for a long, long time — like, decades. We found that there's been some kind of ice cream on their menu since the 1940s, but those iconic sundaes we all know and love didn't show up until much later — 1978, to be precise.

Today, McDonald's ice cream is used in more than 60 percent of their dessert menu. And it's no wonder — it's delicious on its own, sure, but it's also incredibly versatile. Virtually any sweet flavor goes with the soft serve, so well actually, that you're likely to think that it just can't get any better... until you try the next combination. So, while you've had it dozens and dozens of times, you might want to ask yourself: What don't you know about McDonald's ice cream?

McDonald's made massive recipe changes, and no one noticed

If you swing through the drive-thru for a cone or a sundae and you think you're getting the same thing you got on a hot and sunny afternoon during your childhood summers, well, we hate to break it to you, but that's not exactly the case.

In 2017, the fast food giant admitted something that was actually pretty cool: McDonald's changed its ice cream recipe six months before the announcement, and no one had noticed. According to CNBC, the changes came as a part of a massive menu overhaul designed to get rid of artificial ingredients. While they say the soft serve was already free of artificial preservatives and colors, the recipe change ditched the artificial flavoring. Darci Forrest, the senior director of menu innovation, said that it was a change they didn't take lightly: "We worked closely with our culinary team to ensure taste was not impacted."

And it worked — by the time they made the announcement, the rollout of the new ice cream was almost complete, and it was in nearly 14,000 restaurant locations.

You might soon be able to get ice cream much easier — and more often

Good news, ice cream lovers! It's entirely possible that McDonald's ice cream machines might be much more reliable in the future and no, they're not actually replacing them.

According to Food & Wine, what's on the verge of happening is actually much cooler. A company called Kytch has developed a sort of remote brain that can be attached to the machines. Once it's synced, the machines — and every aspect of them — can be controlled via smartphone.

And here's the thing — it's super smart, and it's able to tell human employees when there's a problem (like when it's overfilled or underfilled). It's also equipped with AI that can predict when something's going to go wrong. That will allow franchisees to perform maintenance on the machines before something breaks, and that's going to keep them up and running on a much more regular basis. Early tests were extremely positive, so here's hoping they're rolled out at every McDonald's.

The international McFlurry flavors are incredible

Quick, what's your favorite McFlurry flavor? No matter how much you love your favorite, there are some international flavors out there that'll make your go-to seem super boring. First, let's head over to Malta, where their McFlurry flavors are so good, you might just need to add it to your vacation plans. Stop at McD's in this island nation and you'll be able to choose from Baci (which is Italian chocolate), Snickers, a biscuit and caramel creation, a biscuit and strawberry dessert, or a biscuit and chocolate McFlurry. Sounds amazing, right?

Now, let's talk about Singapore. They have McDonald's Dessert Kiosks, and they offer all kinds of fun things that change regularly. For summer 2020, they went with a banana theme. A Banana McFlurry? Yes, please! If that's not your thing, you can also get a Mudpie or a Strawberry Shortcake McFlurry. Meanwhile, Germany has gone the decadent McFlurry route and fans can get a brownie and caramel, Toblerone, chocolate raspberry, or a Kit Kat McFlurry with raspberry sauce. 

Now that you're hungry, there's good news: it's entirely possible some of these creations might show up in the U.S. In 2019, the Stroopwafel McFlurry from the Netherlands made the hop across the Atlantic (via Brand Eating).

It was the subject of a shockingly long lawsuit

In 1991, things finally wrapped up in what The Chicago Tribune said was one of the city's longest-running legal battles. At the center of it? McDonald's, ice cream, and millions of dollars.

While fans were flocking to theaters in 1977 for the first Star Wars movie, a legal battle with McDonald's was beginning to take shape. There's a ton of legalese in the story, but basically, a company called Central Ice Cream accused McDonald's of breaking a verbal contract, in which they had agreed to sell the ice cream company's Tripple Ripple cone. By the time it went to court, it included accusations that McDonald's had "launched a campaign of harassment" against the ice cream company, and in 1984, the then-bankrupt Central Ice Cream won a $52 million jury verdict and a $15.5 million settlement.

The settlement went to Central Ice Cream creditors, and still, McDonald's repudiated the settlement at a bankruptcy hearing. So, it was back to court — and it wasn't until 1991 that the owners of the then-defunct ice cream company were awarded another $4 million. All over Tripple Ripple.

McDonald's has been accused of using fake vanilla

Going all-natural is undoubtedly a good thing, but what happens when there's only so much of the all-natural stuff available?

According to Truth in Advertising, the swing toward overhauling recipes to get rid of artificial ingredients — like McDonald's did with their ice cream — has led to a slew of class action lawsuits that claim products aren't using real vanilla at all. Things kicked off in February 2019, and dozens of lawsuits have been filed.

McDonald's was handed their suit in March 2020, says Top Class Actions. That's when Emelina Webber filed a suit claiming the vanilla in their ice cream isn't from vanilla beans at all, but that it's a synthetic, taste-alike product called vanillin. The smoking gun, she says, is that their ingredient list says it contains "natural flavor," but doesn't get into specifics on the source of that flavor. 

It's also worth noting a few things: McDonald's isn't the only one to have their ice cream targeted, as lawsuits have also been filed against Turkey Hill, Edy's, and Breyers. And according to Scientific American, companies are fighting an uphill battle. The demand for all-natural vanilla is increasing at the same time production is decreasing. So where does that leave Mickey D's?

McDonald's ice cream was rumored to be made with pork fat

Pork products — usually in the form of gelatin — are found in a lot of sneaky places. Who would have thought that when you're eating marshmallows and Jell-O, you're eating animal products? So knowing that, it's not that far-fetched to think that maybe, just maybe, McDonald's ice cream has some pork products in it, too.

It's a rumor that pops up a lot: McD's ice cream is made from pig fat. 

But it's just that — a rumor. McDonald's has addressed it officially, and more than once, saying that it's just one of those myths that continues to be spread around and around... and around. McDonald's New Zealand even went as far as to make a video in the hopes of making it clear to the public that the only animal products in the soft serve are the dairy ingredients. This should be something that we can all agree is completely acceptable when it comes to soft serve.

There's a vegan version of McDonald's ice cream in Germany

With more and more people opting to make food choices that are vegetarian or vegan, it's no wonder that McDonald's is finding new ways to provide these options. According to them, their current product is considered lacto-vegetarian, which basically means that it contains milk but no other non-dairy animal products.

In Germany, though, vegan customers have a dessert option that honestly sounds pretty delicious, even if you're not vegan. According to Totally Vegan Buzz, McDonald's has debuted a vegan ice cream and, by extension, a vegan McFlurry.

Essentially, it's a strawberry sorbet. In its McFlurry form, it's mixed with Oreo pieces and we know, right? A strawberry and chocolate Oreo McFlurry? You don't have to be vegan to appreciate that. Given that the new product debuted in just a handful of stores in March 2020 and there were plans to have it at every German location by the end of the month, it could be a while before it finds its way to U.S. shores. Let's hope that this sweet European creation eventually makes it into every American McD's, too.

Yes, the ice cream machines break down often, but there's a valid reason

Seriously, is there a more disappointing way to finish off a Monday than to go to McD's to pick yourself up a little "I got through the day" reward, only to find out that the ice cream machines are down yet again? What gives?

According to The Wall Street Journal, it happens so often that it's spawned conspiracy theories as to just why the machines are always down. And it's not even just in the U.S.— customers at international McD's locations have the same complaints. One of the most widely-repeated theories is that employees just can't be bothered to clean the machines, so they just say they're down. But that's not the truth — although, cleaning is part of the problem.

McDonald's spokespeople say that the problem is that when those late-night cravings hit, that's the same time of day that the machines are taken offline and cleaned — and it's a massive endeavor. Just getting the machines ready for cleaning is an 11-step process that involves removing, rinsing, and sanitizing multiple parts, then running an automated process that takes a while to complete. Some McDonald's locations may run 24/7, but the ice cream machines don't — which means someone's bound to be disappointed.

That's only part of the problem, though, and franchisees report that the machines are very finicky, and at any given time, about 25 percent of the company's ice cream machines are, indeed, broken.

McDonald's ice cream has been the subject of some hilariously insane internet rumors

As you most certainly know if you spend any amount of time on the internet at all, it's a super weird place. Conspiracy theories abound, and not even McDonald's ice cream has avoided being the subject of some very strange rumors indeed.

Remember those chain emails you'd inevitably get forwarded to you from family members of a certain age? According to Snopes, rumors that McDonald's included some non-food ingredients in their soft serve have been circulating since at least 1997. That's when it was first claimed that there's no actual dairy in any of their dairy products, and the email composer knows because a friend of a friend had a sister who knew a guy who was married to someone who was lactose intolerant, but could totally eat a soft serve cone. (And this is where we say: if you're lactose-intolerant, please don't do this.) It is, of course, not true.

Other rumors include the weird one that McFlurries contain bird feathers and that they added tiny Styrofoam balls to their ice cream as filler. One particularly gross rumor even accused McDonald's of using cow eyeballs as a thickener in their milkshakes. None of these things are true, but we'll give the rumor mill points for creativity.

There are some pretty great menu hacks for McDonald's ice cream

McDonald's ice cream might be used in the majority of their desserts, but how would you like to have even more choices? This is where some McDonald's menu hacks come in pretty handy.

When one Redditor asked for McFlurry hacks, the internet did not disappoint. Some of the suggestions were downright delicious-sounding, like the ones that shared the very important information regarding the Shamrock shake. The shake is made with a mint flavoring and — if you ask nicely — you just might get it mixed into your Oreo McFlurry.

Others suggest that you should absolutely ask for a pancake platter, then order a cookie and your ice cream cone to make a cookie-based sundae. (Or, order two cookies and put the ice cream in the middle for an ice cream sandwich).

Other ideas? Ask for a side of bacon, and crumble it up on your sundae or in your McFlurry. When breakfast rolls around, definitely order pancakes and an ice cream cone to make your own dessert to start the day. Go ahead and order a bag of apples to add to your caramel sundae, or go all out with the sugar and add some donut sticks to your ice cream dessert.

You're welcome! (And please, don't forget to dip your fries, too!)