The Real Reason McDonald's Ice Cream Tastes So Good

While ice cream in fast food establishments can often be overlooked, it can equally be the reason for someone's visit. Fast food favorite ice creams like the Chocolate Dipped Cone from Dairy Queen, the Wicked Strawberry Cone from Rally's, and the Vanilla Waffle Cone from Culver's, are proof of just how beloved ice cream is. And while McDonald's ice cream may not get top billing, it certainly is an ice-cold delicacy that many care about.

The McDonald's Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream has become a go-to dessert for those on the go, often used as a key ingredient in the McFlurry (created in Canada as a blend of Vanilla Ice Cream and toppings like Oreo bits and M&M minis). It is known for its purity of flavor, with no artificial add-ins either flavor-wise or in preservatives. In fact, it is the most featured dessert on their dessert menu, which also has baked apple pies and chocolate chip cookies (via the McDonald's website). But their ice cream is not the same ice cream you might find featured at a Mr. Softee truck. 

So with the knowledge that their different but popular ice cream is featured so prominently and ordered so frequently, one has to wonder: Could the recipe be the reason it tastes so good, or is there some other reason fans flock to the sweet treat?

Firstly, where did it come from?

The story of where the McDonald's soft serve came from is pretty intriguing and still a slight mystery, but there is a bit of backstory floating around. They have had some variation of "ice cream" on their menus since the 1940's. According to, "Ice cream sodas, sundaes and frosted root beer were among the drinks to be rolled out" about 3 years after they first opened, once McDonalds got their groove in serving up items from their limited menu so that they could "get orders out to customers more quickly." According to The Weekender, lucky customers back then could snag a cone for "a mere $0.25 each." A true steal when you consider today's prices!

Apart from the simple cone, the soft serve is also used in hacks like creating your own cookie sandwich or combining a caramel sundae with a bag of apples to create a caramel apple sundae. And obviously, they have expanded since then, with the popular McFlurry being a source of both admiration and ridicule for their respective tasty flavors and consistent lack of availability due to broken machines (via Delish).

Not quite ice cream

It's important to note that their team mentions on McDonald's website that typically, "ice cream must contain a minimum of 10% milk fat, whereas ours only contains 5%." According to Business Insider, this is fairly commonplace. As they note, FDA regulations require that anything wanting to be considered ice cream must meet two criteria: "1. Ice cream must contain a minimum of 10% dairy milkfat. 2. Ice cream must have no more than 100% overrun and weigh no less than 4.5 lbs. per gallon." 

As a result, they note, many ice cream containers refer to their ice cream as "frozen dairy dessert" instead of calling them by their supposed name, though many shoppers and sales people will still use the words ice cream as a frame of reference for purchase. So while McDonald's soft serve tastes, smells, and looks like ice cream, according to parameters set forth by the FDA, they are forced to continue calling it soft serve. But that does not stop many from buying and enjoying the frozen treat.

Its all about the milk and sugar

McDonald's actually revised their ice cream flavor in 2017 to improve the already popular taste of its beloved menu item, in response to a call to remove artificial flavors from its repertoire. The result and answer to the question of where it gets its kick-butt flavor comes from McDonald's website itself. According to the site, the soft texture of the ice cream is half the solution, created from a "special combination of ingredients" including "powdered milk, sugar, cream, glucose and emulsifiers." 

They also note that the replacement of glucose for some sugar gives it a less cloyingly sweet flavor. And while technically it does not fall into the category of ice cream, it turns out the flavor actually benefits from breaking the rules. The revised recipe gives their ice cream an edge in both texture and taste. Whatever the reason, its fantastic recipe ensures that for some, it is always ice cream season.