Food & Nutrition

This Is the Most Popular Fast Food Menu Item of All Time

Hint: This food has been on the menu since 1949, and sells by the billions every day. Can you guess?

The Real Reason McDonald’s Got Rid of the Supersized MenuGilmanshin/Shutterstock

A handful of foods are so popular they’re actually iconic. Most people not only know how they taste but also how they look, their packaging, the way they smell. McDonald’s French fries epitomize this: the thin, pliable red cardboard container, the golden exterior, and fluffy interior, the extra fine salt sticking to my fingers. I always dig into the box for the short, brittle, super-crunchy fries, though the longer, softer fries are definitely the best for dipping.

Turns out, I’m far from alone in my love for McDonald’s fries: They’re the most popular fast food of all time.

The numbers

Obviously, McDonald’s is a burger-slinging giant, with 37,000 restaurants worldwide and 14,155 in the United States alone. They feed 69 million customers every day. How many fries does that require? About 9 million pounds. Every single day. According to NBC News, McDonald’s uses more than 3.4 billion pounds of U.S.-grown potatoes every year. They’re the biggest buyer of potatoes in the entire world—and this is just one of several mind-blowing McDonald’s facts we bet you don’t know.

Fries are #1

According to HowStuffWorks, French fries are the most popular menu item at McDonald’s. Not only do many people order fries on their own, but fries are also included in almost every meal, from Happy Meals to the biggest burger combos on the board.

Fries are definitely popular today, but they’ve got another edge on rival fast food menu items: They’ve been around for decades. French fries first appeared in 1949—back then they were made with fresh potatoes! Frozen spuds came along in 1967. Here’s what the McDonald’s menu looked like the year you were born.

What makes ’em so good?

Some people say it’s the coat of sugar the fresh-cut potatoes get before they’re frozen—the slight sweetness offsets all that salt and makes you keep eating. Others believe it’s the company’s artificial beef flavoring, which was added in the mid-’90s when the company switched from frying in beef fat to frying in vegetable oil (a move that made fries trans-fat free). The artificial beef flavor contains hydrolyzed wheat and hydrolyzed milk, so the fries aren’t gluten-free or vegan. It might not sound particularly delicious, but they sure taste good. Now that you know how McDonald’s French fries are made, learn about their main squeeze: the Big Mac.

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