It’s hard not to melt when you smell the warm, cinnamon-heavy aroma of a hot apple pie fresh out of the oven.
If there’s one thing that McDonald’s has gotten right – it’s arguably that the fast-food chain’s hot apple pies smell like the real deal.
Generally speaking, McDonald’s apple pies can be considered vegan-friendly. However, these pies do contain palm oil – an ingredient which many vegans choose to abstain from for ethical reasons.
Below, I’ll give you an in-depth breakdown of all of the ingredients in McDonald’s apple pies and explain whether or not they’re a good dietary choice.
When it comes to vegan and vegetarian diets, McDonald’s is very hit-or-miss. Although the world’s largest fast-food chain has made efforts to include a greater variety of healthy and sometimes plant-based food options, many of the classic items on its menu are still very much non-vegan.
McDonald’s apple pies have been a fan favorite since 1968, when they first hit the menu. They’re like Hot Pockets, but they’re stuffed with warm apples and cinnamon instead of meat and cheese.
If you’re a dietary vegan, then you can comfortably eat McDonald’s apple pies.
Both the pie crust and the filling are all made with primarily plant-based ingredients (along with a few artificial preservatives and coloring).
That being said, there are a couple of questionable ingredients that ethical vegans may not agree with, including:
- Refined white sugar
- Palm oil
Although both of these ingredients are naturally-derived (sugar from sugarcane and palm oil from palm fruit), the methods of producing these ingredients isn’t very eco-friendly.
Palm oil, for example, directly contributes to rainforest deforestation, while white sugar is refined through animal bone char.
At the end of the day, PETA suggests that most vegans shouldn’t be concerned about micro-ingredients. However, if you really want to help the planet, then you should make an effort to at least avoid certain ingredients when possible.
Unlike many of the other items found on McDonald’s menu, the apple pies are surprisingly natural. Like any other fast-food, the pies contain a few not-so-healthy ingredients. But they’re largely everyday baking ingredients, such as:
- Apples & apple juice
- Vegetable (palm) oil
Looks pretty natural, right?
Now let’s take a closer look at each of these ingredients, how they’re produced, and whether or not they fit into a healthy diet.
Apples are a nutritious fruit that are high in fiber and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. They are a good source of vitamin C, which helps to support the immune system and promotes healthy skin.
All varieties of apples are naturally high in antioxidants (although Red Delicious and Northern Spy apples have the highest concentration). Antioxidants can help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and cancer, by reducing free radicals produced by physical stress. .
They’re also a great source of fiber, which is great for your digestive system and keeps your intestines clear of blockages.
However, the apples used in these fast-food pies contain a few other additives, including:
- Ascorbic acid (the chemical name for vitamin C)
- Citric acid
The ascorbic acid has preservative properties and also contributes to the food’s vitamin C content (which is a good thing). Citric acid is a naturally-derived preservative obtained from citrus fruit, which works alongside the salt to keep the apples fresh and edible, even after being frozen for long periods of time.
Flour, at its most basic, is just dried and ground wheat, which means that it’s 100% plant-based.
Enriched flour is a type of flour that has nutrients added back into it after the milling process. These nutrients include iron, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid.
Although many of these nutrients are naturally present in whole wheat flour, they’re removed and added back in to improve the texture of the flour. This is part of what makes the apple pie’s crust so crispy.
Sugar is in almost everything these days, so it’s hard to avoid completely. Although it’s generally regarded as unhealthy, small amounts of sugar (in moderation) can actually be good for you as they provide energy in the form of simple carbs which are easy for your body to burn.
When traditionally refined using mechanical devices, sugar is 100% vegan.
However, the problem is that the majority of the sugar on the market today is refined white sugar. To create this sugar, the brown-colored turbinado sugar is ultra-filtered through animal bone char – a special type of charcoal filter made from the braised bones of cows and pigs.
This means that white sugar production is an indirect product of the commercial meat industry, which is why some vegans choose to abstain from it.
Palm oil has received a lot of press lately, as it’s become a major contributor to deforestation in tropical rainforest zones in Indonesia and South America. While this ingredient is technically plant-based, the majority of palm oil in the world isn’t responsibly produced.
Giant commercial farms cut (or burn) down thousands of acres of rainforests every month to make room for more palm trees to fuel the planet’s demand for cheap palm oil.
The reason why palm oil is used more often than other forms of vegetable oil is that it’s very inexpensive, due to the fact that it’s primarily produced in second or third-world nations, where labor is cheap and there are little to no environmental protection laws.
Although some palm oil is ethically produced on sustainable farms, this palm oil is typically only found in high-end organic foods. You can be certain that the palm oil used by McDonald’s is not sustainably sourced.
Water is an essential ingredient used to make the dough that the crust is made out of. As pure H20, this ingredient is not only vegan but is actually healthy as well.
One of the reasons why McDonald’s apple pies taste so fruity and delicious is that the pie filling contains concentrated apple juice. This provides extra sweetness and creates a thick, syrupy filling that’s almost impossible to resist.
Starch is typically derived from corn, potatoes, rice, and other starches. It’s commonly used in baking as a thickening agent and contributes to a crispier, crunchier texture in the crust on these little pies.
Modified food starch typically starts off as corn starch, but is chemically modified to create a finer texture. By itself, starch isn’t healthy. However, it’s only used in small amounts as a baking additive, so there’s nothing to worry about here.
Invert syrup is just a fancy name for “simple syrup,” which is just a syrup made from white sugar and water. This ingredient is used as a sweetener in the apple pie filling. As I mentioned above, white sugar isn’t the most vegan-friendly, thanks to the bone char filtration process.
Pie crust (and pretty much all dough) is made by combining flour, water, yeast, and salt. Yeast is a natural fungus consisting of single-cell organisms.
When yeast feeds on the sugars and starches found in flour, it produces carbon dioxide gas that helps the dough rise. Without yeast, the apple pies would look more like apple burritos.
Yeast is 100% vegan. In fact, many vegans regularly consume deactivated yeast (nutritional yeast) as a seasoning or cheese-flavor alternative.
Salt is an important additive used to make dough. It strengthens the gluten (protein) in the dough, resulting in a stronger dough. This, in turn, helps to trap the CO2 gas inside of the dough, and creates a better texture in the apple pie crust.
Lastly, McDonald’s apple pies contain a small amount of beta-carotene, which is used to give the apple pie an attractive orange coloring. Beta-carotene is a 100% plant-based pigment that’s derived from carrots, beets, and other red/orange vegetables.
Although some vegans may choose to avoid McDonald’s apple pies due to the palm oil and refined sugar content, these pies are fine for all vegetarians to consume, as they contain no animal-derived products.
If you’re on an anti-inflammatory or gluten-free diet, then you’ll want to avoid McDonald’s apple pies. The pie crust of these pies is made from wheat flour, which contains high concentrations of wheat gluten.
For those who are particularly sensitive, a small amount of gluten could be enough to trigger an allergic reaction.
It really depends on the recipe used to make them and what ingredients are used in the pie crust. Homemade apple pies are usually vegan. However, some recipes may include pie crusts that are made with eggs (which aren’t vegan) or dairy-derived ingredients.
Overall, McDonald’s apple pies are okay for dietary vegans to consume. Thanks to the high sugar content, they aren’t the healthiest choice. However, they aren’t made with any animal-derived ingredients.
Few things pair better with hot apple pie than a scoop of ice-cold vanilla ice cream.
Although traditional ice cream is off-limits for vegans, plant-based eaters can still consume non-dairy alternatives. Keep on reading to see some of my favorite vegan ice cream brands!