One of the trickier things about navigating a vegan lifestyle is trying to find items you can eat when you’re out and about. Not every town has a plethora of vegan restaurants and it can be difficult to put together a tasty meal at non-vegan eateries. Items on the menus of chain restaurants that turn out to be vegan can be a real lifesaver — although there may be compromises you need to make. Whether or not a specific item is free from animal products and also cruelty-free can be a complex question, depending on where you stand regarding certain ingredients.
Are McDonald’s hash browns vegan? The UK version is vegan, the US version contains milk products. While the UK recipe is free of animal ingredients, McDonald’s hash browns may be also be fried in oil that has come into contact with fish or chicken. McDonald’s may be ethically problematic for strict vegans.
You’ve landed on this page because you have questions about popular fast food items like McDonald’s hash browns. Maybe you’re looking around for vegan fast food options and you’ve heard conflicting information about this product.
- Are hash browns vegan?
- What ingredients might they contain?
- How does McDonald’s prepare their hash browns?
- What should vegans know about this menu item?
- Are there any other McDonald’s products that are suitable for vegans?
Read on to find out all of this and more. We have the answers to all of your questions.
Are McDonald’s hash browns vegan?
Whether or not you’d categorise any of McDonald’s products as vegan will depend in a large part on how you personally choose to define “vegan”. First of all, though, you need to know that the recipe may vary depending on your region.
In the UK, McDonald’s hash browns do not contain eggs, milk or other animal-derived ingredients. They’re certified as vegetarian by the Vegetarian Society, to give you a little extra peace of mind. They are not certified as vegan, however, as they may be fried in oil that has come into contact with animal products. In UK McDonald’s restaurants, the hash browns may be cooked near the fryers that are used for fish and chicken. Not all vegans will be especially perturbed by this but many will want to avoid food that may have come into contact with animal products, even if it’s only incidental.
In the US, the situation is more clear cut: hash browns prepared in US branches of McDonald’s are not vegan at all. They’re made with a beef flavouring that contains milk derivatives and is thus completely inappropriate for a vegan lifestyle. Other regions also use a similar recipe, which means you can’t eat the hash browns there either.
The same is true, unfortunately, of several other menu items. In the UK, you can choose an order of fries with a fairly clear conscience: UK branches of the chain make their fries without animal ingredients. Like the hash browns, they carry a Vegetarian Society certification confirming that they’re free from meat; the caveat regarding contact with animal products during cooking still applies, meaning that they’re not certified as vegan. In the US, the fries are seasoned with a rather vaguely defined beef flavour, which contains milk products. There are a few vegan options if you know where to look but UK vegans definitely have more choice than our US counterparts.
Let’s assume that there are some tasty animal-free options on the McDonald’s menu where you live. Can you really say that McDonald’s food is vegan? Well, that depends on your interpretation. The very strictest vegans that I know wouldn’t even enter a McDonald’s. They consider Some just avoid businesses that serve meat and other animal products, as a general principle. They consider any product from a company that deals in animal-based materials of any sort to be non-vegan. Others are specifically boycotting the McDonald’s company because they’re ethically opposed to some aspect of its business practices. There are lots of reasons to consider a company to be non-vegan over and above the presence of animal ingredients in its products; McDonald’s tends to be on a lot of people’s lists.
In short, while there are a handful of items on the menu that might be considered vegan, McDonald’s probably isn’t your best bet for fast food options wherever you live. In the following sections, we’ll take a look at some McDonald’s items which might be okay for less strict vegans, and were more cautious vegans can go for a tasty fast-food meal.
What can you eat at McDonald’s?
As a vegan, your options in McDonald’s are apt to be limited. Vegetarians are fairly well-served but if you’re avoiding milk, dairy and other animal products too, you may face a bit of a struggle. With some creative thought, you can put together a meal. Your options will be better in some regions. In the UK, for example, McDonald’s has attempted to make its menu more vegan-friendly by changing the way that some items are prepared and adding new items that don’t contain animal products.
As we’ve already seen, hash browns may be a vegan option in some regions. In the UK, McDonald’s now serves a Veggie Dippers meal. This comes with red pepper and pesto goujons, along with with dipping sauce, a soft drink and a side of vegan fries. Customers elsewhere in Europe can also purchase the McVegan burger, which uses no animal products.
Salads are usually a good bet. You’ll need to make sure you choose an option that comes with separate dressing. In the UK and Europe, you will find various possibilities. In the US, there are no salads that are specifically prepared to be vegan but McDonald’s staff will adjust the ingredients if requested. The Southwest Salad is fine, as long as you specify no cheese or chicken and choose one of the vegan dressing options (vinaigrette is usually safe). A McDonald’s Side Salad with vegan dressing is another good option.
The fruit is another possibility. In some regions, you can order the pineapple stick — a slice of fresh pineapple with no additives or sweeteners. There are also apple slices and, depending on your location, baby carrots. Most regions serve oatmeal, which you can have with apples or other fruit. You can have this as a hearty breakfast or, with extra sugar or sweetener, it makes for a nice dessert. In some regions, the apple pies are vegan. Check the ingredients before you buy as the pastry may not be dairy-free in all locations.
Iced desserts are mostly off-limits, as McDonald’s focuses heavily on dairy for its sweet dishes. You can enjoy a Minute Maid slushy in place of dessert — not terribly healthy but acceptable for vegans who consume sugar.
Most of the sodas are vegan if you’re not avoiding controversial ingredients (cane sugar, food colourings, etc). You can also enjoy fruit juice or black coffee. Just order an espresso or an Americano and steer clear of the other McCafe options, which mostly come loaded with dairy.
Where else can I eat?
If you’re not a fan of McDonald’s — or if you’ve had apple slices three times this week and need a change — there are various other chains where you can put together a vegan meal. Vegan options are, mercifully, becoming more common.
In the UK, you could try Gregg’s. This popular chain offers takeaway snacks and usually has some seating if you want to eat in. Gregg’s introduced a vegan sausage roll in 2019, to much fanfare, and offers a few other vegan products. Tex-Mex chain Nando’s has added some vegan items to its menu; there are also a few options that are “accidentally vegan”.
Pizza has long been a go-to for many vegans; if you order vegetable toppings without cheese, you’re usually pretty safe. Pizza Hut and Papa John’s now offer explicitly vegan options in some locations, plus “accidentally vegan” salads and sides.
Burger King is something of a mixed bag for vegans. They do offer plant-based burgers — the Impossible Burger in the US and the Rebel Burger in the UK and elsewhere. These are theoretically vegan if ordered without cheese or non-vegan sauces. Unfortunately, Burger King cooks all their burgers on the same griddle. This means that their plant-based offerings may be contaminated with meat. Some vegans find this sort of incidental contact acceptable, while others would reject this.
Frankie & Benny’s is one of the most popular chains with vegans, due to its relatively extensive menu of vegan-friendly items. It’s one of my favourite chains as there are more than 30 different vegan menu items! You actually feel as if you’re meant to be eating there, rather than being an afterthought. My favourite thing about Frankie & Benny’s is that they also offer vegan desserts (I usually go for the Chocomisu). It’s perhaps the best fast food option if you want to go somewhere fun without your non-vegan friends complaining.
In general, the savvy diner can usually pick out vegan options from the menu. Look for side salads, rice, egg-free pasta and vegetables cooked without meat or animal ingredients. Many places will happily serve you an order of vegetables on a bun or as a wrap. Make sure to ask or check the chain’s website as it’s not always obvious which foods are not vegan.
Don’t overlook small local options when eating out. Many places, even small towns, have dedicated vegan cafes and restaurants and I think we can agree that we should support vegan businesses. These hidden gems often have far better food than you’d find in a standard chain. It’s well worth checking to see what might be available before you resign yourself to another salad-and-fries meal. Happy Cow app happens to help with that…