FAST FOOD FLASHBACK: McDonald’s McLean Deluxe

McDonald s McLean Deluxe


If you’ve looked at the ingredients list on an ice cream container or chocolate milk carton, carrageenan is probably familiar to you. It’s a food additive extracted from red seaweed and it’s used as a gelling, thickening, and stabilizing agent in food products. So thank Mr. Carrageenan for helping make chocolate milk possible.

Carrageenan was also in the beef patty of McDonald’s McLean Deluxe.

The burger, introduced in 1991, was McDonald’s answer to the critics of fast food’s unhealthiness. It featured a 3.75-ounce, 91 percent fat free beef patty that used carrageenan to hold the beef together and allow water to replace fat. The beef patty was developed by food scientists at Auburn University. Along with the mostly beef patty, the burger was topped with lettuce, tomato, ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions on a sesame seed bun. It was also available with cheese.

Thanks to that lean beef patty, the McLean Deluxe had 10 grams of fat, which was 10-16 fewer grams than a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder. A McLean Deluxe without cheese had 320 calories, 10 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 1 gram of polyunsaturated fat, 5 grams of monounsaturated fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 670 milligrams of sodium, 35 grams of carbohydrates, and 22 grams of protein.

I ate one McLean Deluxe burger in the 1990s and I remember thinking the beef patty didn’t have any flavor. If it weren’t for the toppings, providing some flavor, I wouldn’t have eaten the whole thing. Maybe it was at this point in my young life I realized that fat = yummy.

Even though its use of carrageenan got it teased by Johnny Carson and other fast food companies, the beef patty’s flavor was off, and there were complaints about the patty’s dryness, the McDonald’s McLean Deluxe stayed on menu boards for FIVE years. It was discontinued in February 1996.

Even though I didn’t care for the McLean Deluxe, I like the idea of a lower fat burger. And I’d really like to see McDonald’s take another stab at it, because food technology has improved, more people know what carrageenan is, and I’m getting tired of ordering a McDonald’s Southwest Grilled Chicken Salad when I want to eat health-ish at McDonald’s.

Did you try the McDonald’s McLean Deluxe?

9 thoughts to “FAST FOOD FLASHBACK: McDonald’s McLean Deluxe”

  1. I used to order those. I thought they tasted the same as McDonalds other burgers.

    I don’t like any of their burgers so it made sense to go with the lower fat one.

  2. I ate them and liked them well enough. The liberal use of ketchup covers up many burger sins.

  3. Ironically, carrageenan has been used so much now that some people are getting sensitive to it…. There have also been dubious (in my opinion) animal experiments that have caused enough bad publicity that it’s been removed from a lot of products in Europe. So I doubt that they would tout it loudly today as a healthy additive, too controversial.

    I don’t have any reaction to carrageenan, thankfully, but like others I have developed a low tolerance for inulin (chicory root extract) that is showing up everywhere as a way to put an unnatural amount of fiber on the label – even in ice cream. FiberOne products are the worst offenders but a lot of breads are overdosed with it now also. So I have to figure out if the inulin content might be enough to cause several days of pain or not (a few grams is ok, but more than that means agony). Other fakey fibers such as polydextrose (in WhoNu cookies, for example) can cause the same grief. I don’t have trouble with high fiber from real foods like fruits and veggies and beans and whole grains. Helpful hint: a slice of bread shouldn’t really have more than about 3 grams of fiber. More than that, and you’re likely eating too much inulin or variations on sawdust or something equally unwelcome. And ice cream really shouldn’t be a source of fiber. Eat a banana with it instead.

  4. I don’t remember whether I liked the McLean Deluxe, but I’d be game to try a lower fat burger.

    Instead of some fake meat burger with carrageenan (even if tasty…the image would doom it) , I’d prefer if they just went with a more highly seasoned leaner beef patty or a bison patty (might blow the price point though). Give it a low fat mayo, chopped onions, and keep it under 400 calories and $5 and it’d be worth a shot. Or maybe they should just have an option on key menu items to sub in leaner patties for $1 more so that people can still get the nostalgic taste profile they want from a Big Mac with slightly less guilt. People go to McD’s for the familiarity…they go to Subway if they want to eat healthy.

  5. I really enjoyed these at a time when I lost a lot of weight, 94 lb., in 1993 and 1994. I was sorry to see them go. I wish they would bring back a low fat burger, maybe a newer style.

  6. I ate them when I was dieting. Was it as juicy and good as a regular burger? No. But did it taste enough like a burger to satisfy my craving for a burger,? Yes! I would love to be able to buy one again even without improvement.

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