I think I’ve eaten a McDonald’s Big Mac twice before. So if they ever wanted to pull one over on me and change up the recipe, I wouldn’t notice. But plenty of other people probably would, like that terrifying former prison guard Don Gorski, who has eaten two Big Macs a day since 1972.
Has that ever happened, though?
The Big Mac, for all its hype, is a pretty straightforward item. You’ve got your three-piece sesame-seed bun, beef patties, onion, lettuce, pickles, pasteurized American cheese and the “secret” distinctive sauce. There’s only so much room for creativity there. If you change any component of it, particularly the sauce, it’s no longer the Big Mac that people know.
For the most part, any major changes that have been made to iconic fast-food items have been done so inconspicuously. Often, the only times that chains have made public announcements about recipe changes is when the quality or nutrition of the item is improved. Probably the most famous of fast-food changes actually occurred in 1990, when McDonald’s began frying their French fries in vegetable oil instead of beef tallow. In recent years, McDonald’s has also removed antibiotics and artificial preservatives from their chicken products and switched from frozen to fresh beef. Meanwhile, Taco Bell switched to cage-free eggs for their breakfast products, and has made significant cuts to their sodium counts and the presence of artificial trans fats, palm oil and high fructose corn syrup.
By and large, though, companies avoid making noticeable changes to their main products. Instead, the changes that do occur usually only come down to the finer details that the average person wouldn’t be capable of detecting. The Big Mac is a good example of how these minor shifts have been rolled out.
According to McDonald’s U.K. site, the Big Mac hasn’t undergone any major changes since it was originally created in 1967 save for certain “tweaks to improve the nutritional content,” and hasn’t changed at all since 1990. Comparing the ingredient lists between the U.K. Big Mac and the U.S. version of the Big Mac, they appear to be nearly identical, with some minor differences in the labeling of the beef and the cheese, which are both subject to different national regulations. There are, however, some more significant differences between the sauce recipes. In the U.K., the first ingredient is water, whereas the first ingredient in the U.S. is soybean oil. They also appear to have different ratios for relish, sugar, egg yolks and other spices in the sauce.
Originally, the sauce was likely a combination of ketchup, mayo, Thousand Island dressing and other spices. Today, it’s more probable that the sauce is made from the ingredients that comprise these three condiments in a factory, skipping the stages of ever being ketchup, mayo and Thousand Island. Considering that the U.S. is one of the global leaders in soy production, economics is probably the reason why McDonald’s uses soybean oil in their sauce here rather than elsewhere. Soybean oil didn’t become a major product until the 1980s, though, so it’s quite possible that this wasn’t in the early versions of the sauce.
Beyond these discrepancies in the sauce, it’s unlikely that the Big Mac has ever really changed. Developments in beef and dairy production may have shifted the exact contents of the burger patties and cheese slices on the burger, but the burgers are currently 100 percent USDA-inspected beef without fillers. That said, U.S. McDonald’s could just be keeping any major changes a secret. The U.K. site features information about changes to the Big Mac, while the U.S. site’s FAQ section doesn’t mention it at all.
But considering the fame surrounding their signature product, any new developments to the Big Mac would probably be so carefully made and tested as to be completely undetectable to the average consumer. However refined and astute your palate is, it’s probably no match for the world’s biggest fast-food chain.