Read This Before You Take Another Drink Of Chick-Fil-A's Lemonade

On the surface, Chick-fil-A's lemonade seems like the perfect drink. Unlike sugary sodas, it has an ideal balance of sweet and tart flavors. It's capable of cooling you down on a hot day or dowsing your taste buds after a bite of one of their spicy chicken sandwiches. It also seems to be a healthier alternative to high-fructose corn syrup drinks, but sadly, not everything is as it appears. A few behind-the-scenes videos revolving around Chick-fil-A's lemonade have generated quite a bit of negative publicity for the fast-food chain.

If you love Chick-fil-A lemonade, you may not want to know more. That's okay, but we promise you that it's not all bad news. This sweet drink is made with high-quality ingredients, and they really do mix it daily, so it's as fresh as can be. But you should still be warned that some of the finer details may turn you off from your favorite summertime quencher. If you want to know more about the drink they're pouring into those iconic polystyrene foam cups, read this before you take another drink of Chick-fil-A's lemonade.

Chick-fil-A lemonade is made daily with real lemons

We were pleasantly surprised to learn that Chick-fil-A makes their lemonade daily, and the ingredients don't come from concentrate or a powdered mix. It tastes so fresh because they're actually using fresh ingredients! A 2013 Chick-fil-A promotional video (via YouTube) gave us an insider view of making this iconic drink. It starts with washing the lemons before slicing them in half and extracting the juice. The resulting lemon juice is mixed with water and sugar (or Splenda for the diet lemonade).

That doesn't mean that Chick-fil-A employees are hand-squeezing your lemonade, though. The aforementioned video shows the team member loading the halved lemons into a commercial Sunkist juicing machine. More recent videos show Chick-fil-A employees using even fancier Zummo juicers that eliminate the need to slice the lemons in half. Simply load the whole lemons into the hopper and the juicier does all the work. These machines look like a pain to clean, so the team members are still working plenty hard to produce your daily dose of lemonade.

Sunkist lemons are the secret ingredient in Chick-fil-A lemonade

Chick-fil-A makes their lemonade with a specific type of lemon made by Sunkist, a citrus-growing cooperative based in California. The blogger behind Stockpiling Moms revealed the brand in 2012 after visiting Chick-fil-A Corporate offices, but it's no longer a secret. In 2015, the Chick-fil-A acknowledged the partnership when they claimed to have bought more Sunkist lemons than the entire country of Japan — about 250 million lemons used to make 121 million cups of lemonade. Sunkist grows a few different types of lemons, but the two most common varieties are Eureka lemons and Lisbon lemons. Though the tree that grows Eureka lemons only produces lemons twice a year, Lisbon lemons are available year-round. The two types of lemons also taste nearly indistinguishable from each other, which means Chick-fil-A's lemonade doesn't change its flavor depending on the season.

Sunkist lemons are defined by their tart, tangy flavor with high acidity levels. They're not as sweet as other types of lemons, but they're exceptionally juicy, so they're ideal for making lemon juice. What really makes them stand out is their bright, floral aroma and abundance of lemon oil in the peels. If you try to replicate Chick-fil-A's lemonade using another lemon, it just won't turn out the same.

Copycat Chick-fil-A lemonade won't taste the same without using filtered water

There are dozens of copycat Chick-fil-A Lemonade recipes, but it's hard to find one that tastes exactly like the restaurant's. You may even find that making it with Sunkist lemons doesn't result in a perfect replica. It turns out your water might have something to do with it. Katie Moseman of Recipe for Perfection called her local Chick-fil-A in 2017 and asked the manager a few questions about their lemonade making process. The manager confirmed that the restaurant does have a filtered water tap, which they use when making the lemonade.

Tap water contains more than just water. Some municipal water treatment plants add fluoride to the water source, and almost all of them use chlorine and chloramine to kill bacteria and microorganisms. These chemicals affect the flavor and texture of the water. If Chick-fil-A used tap water at their locations, the lemonade's taste would vary from location to location. Filtering the water makes it taste more consistent. Considering that water is one of only three ingredients (along with freshly-squeezed lemon juice and pure cane sugar), using the highest quality water available makes a difference in the final product.

Chick-fil-A lemonade has a ton of added sugar

The amount of sugar Chick-fil-A uses to make its lemonade shouldn't really be considered a secret. Employees readily share the recipe on Reddit (one part sugar, two parts lemon juice, and eight parts water, in case you were wondering). Not only that, but the nutrition information posted on the fast-food restaurant's website details the number of calories, fat, and carbohydrates in every menu item. It's easy to find out that a medium lemonade (containing about 14 ounces) has 55 grams of sugar. That's a lot, but it's not too out of line when compared to other beverages. A 14-ounce serving of Simply Lemonade contains 49 grams of sugar, Coca-Cola has 45.5 grams, and Mountain Dew has 53.9 grams.

That said, anyone who previously thought that Chick-fil-A lemonade was a healthy alternative to soda would be shocked by a recent TikTok video. The since-deleted August 2020 video shows a Chick-fil-A employee adding an entire pitcher of sugar to a container of yellow liquid. The video (captioned "This is how much suger [sic] they put in the lemonade at Chick-fil-A") was viewed almost 2.6 million times, and multiple commenters swore off the fast-food restaurant in horror.

Chick-fil-A diet lemonade doesn't have any sugar — it's made with Splenda

If you're trying to limit your sugar intake, Chick-fil-A's diet lemonade might be the way to go. It's made with Splenda No Calorie Sweetener, a sucralose-based product. According to Healthline, this calorie-free sweetener is 400 to 700 times sweeter than sugar, so you don't need to use nearly as much. While we couldn't figure out the exact amount that's used to create Chick-fil-A diet lemonade (Redditors list "1 packet of Splenda" when describing the recipe, but they don't specify the size of the packet), we're sure it must be less than the seven cups of sugar rumored to be used in the regular lemonade.

Diet lemonade is great for anyone watching their calories: A medium (14-ounce) diet drink contains only 50 calories (compared to the regular's 220). But keto-dieters will still want to steer clear of this low-calorie drink. Splenda may be calorie-free, but it still contains the carbohydrates dextrose (glucose) and maltodextrin, adding 14 grams of carbohydrates to a medium-sized drink diet lemonade.

Chick-fil-A lemonade spoils really quickly

We were pretty stoked to learn that Chick-fil-A sells their lemonade to-go. The gallon-sized containers are available on the catering menu for $10.50, a killer deal when you consider that a 14-ounce medium drink costs $1.99 and contains a bunch of ice. Sadly, this bulk-buy doesn't make a good long-term investment. It won't taste great in a few days, so you'll wasting your money unless you plan to drink the entire gallon in one day.

Many store-bought lemonades contain preservatives like potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate to keep them from going bad. Even the ones that are preservative-free (like Simply Lemonade) use pasteurization to preserve the product's taste. Chick-fil-A lemonade is made every day, so it doesn't need either preservation method. We learned from one Redditor who claims to be a Chick-fil-A manager, that they're "only allowed to serve the diet lemonade for up to 12 hours after its [sic] made, and regular lemonade is 24 hours. We have to throw it away after that." The flavor just isn't the same after a day, and another Redditor advises it "will just taste nasty after 48 hours."

Basically, if you're buying it to feed a crowd (in the very near future), it's a tasty choice. Otherwise, just settle for a single serving — or hit up the Chick-fil-A drive thru day after day to get your fix.

Employees created Chick-fil-A's frosted lemonade

The only thing better than a Chick-fil-A lemonade on a hot day is a frosted, milkshake version of Chick-fil-A lemonade. The combination of Icedream (Chick-fil-A's vanilla soft-serve) and lemonade is fairly unique. It's not often that you find a lemon-flavored milkshake on the menu! When the drink was introduced in 2015, The Chicken Wire revealed that Chick-fil-A corporate offices heard rumors of team members who combined lemonade and Icedream to enjoy on their breaks.They tested the recipe at several locations and, after receiving positive feedback, launched the treat nationwide.

According to Redditors that work at Chick-fil-A, the frosted lemonade is easy to make at home. It's almost equal parts lemonade and Icedream: 6.5 ounces of lemonade with 7 ounces of ice cream for the small, and 8 ounces of lemonade with 8.75 ounces of ice cream for a large. Add the two components to the blender and garnish the drink with a lemon slice.

There's been some controversy with Chick-fil-A's frosted strawberry lemonade

Depending on which Chick-fil-A location you visit, you may or may not be able to order a frosted strawberry lemonade. The chain announced the "twist" on the frosted lemonade in 2017, calling it a hand-spun combination of their famous lemonade, Icedream (their vanilla soft-serve), and strawberry purée. But the drink was only intended as a seasonal item, and Redditors reported that it disappeared as an option from the company's point-of-sale (POS) system.

Since then, the company has introduced several frosted flavors, but people still ask for the now-defunct strawberry flavor. Perhaps the lack of an official recipe led to Antonella Nonone's viral TikTok video (which has since been deleted). It shows her adding lemonade and two pumps of strawberry syrup to a to-go cup before filling it up with "delicious ice." The video got 2.6 million views, and people were pretty upset to learn that a drink they loved contains about 70 percent ice.

Chick-fil-A lemonade's flavor can vary from day-to-day

If chain restaurants have one thing down, it's consistency. A Big Mac tastes the same whether you order it in big cities like New York City and Los Angeles or pick one up in the rural midwest. How Stuff Works explains that this consistency comes from mass-produced food. The workers at your local McDonald's don't actually prep the food. Instead, they're cooking burgers and french fries that are prepared at a factory and shipped to the store. Even the equipment is designed so the food cooks for the exact same amount of time, regardless of the location.

While most of the items on Chick-fil-A's menu follow this same formula, the same can't be said about the lemonade. The lemonade doesn't come from a consistent concentrate shipped to the store. The store employees cut and squeeze the lemons every day. Redditors reveal that the lemon juice can taste more or less bitter depending on the pressure applied to the juicer. Apparently, citrus fruits contain a compound called limonin (according to Gerald McDonald & Company, a UK-based company specializing in fruit juices and concentrates). When citrus like lemons are squeezed too hard, the compound comes in contact with the acid from the juice, producing a bitter flavor. So while the lemonade at Chick-fil-A doesn't change its flavor based on the season, it may change depending in how enthusiastic that day's lemon squeezer was. 

You shouldn't ask for Chick-fil-A lemonade without pulp

Chick-fil-A is pretty well-known for being one of the most polite fast-food chains out there. Business Insider reports that they specifically train their employees to say please and thank you more than most fast-food restaurants. It's also not uncommon for employees to offer to get you a refill without having to ask, or they'll offer to remove your empty tray from the table while dining in. The company even created an ordering app that makes it easier to customize most aspects of your order. But, being polite has its limits, and you shouldn't push it by asking for a pulp-free lemonade.

A Reddit thread asking if it's "appropriate to ask for 'no pulp' in my lemonade?" was met with a resounding no. Redditors called the request "ridiculous" and stated that it was "literally impossible" to make a pulp-free lemonade. Real lemons are juiced to make the lemonade, and some pulp is inevitable. You can certainly try, and if you get the right person they might say yes, but keep on Reddit user's comment in mind if you do: "I can guarantee the employees will hate you."