Few fast food products are so emblematic that everyone knows their names, let alone have their economic index. However, this is the case with the Big Mac: this product has been around for over 50 years, and it is still one of the most popular items of the famous chain (second only to fries), with more than a billion products sold in 2017. This food product is so popular that there is even an entire museum in Pennsylvania dedicated to the Big Mac!
But what makes the Big Mac so special? The hamburger itself is nothing special – it has no gourmet components and is not made with specialized beef. The trimmings are not very bold either. Certainly, the sauce stands out in away. There is the spicy taste of ketchup, the creaminess of mayonnaise and a sweet, crunchy finish that makes us all addicted to it. Although everyone knows this famous sauce, there are still many things to know about it. Here are 10 of them!
1. The original Big Mac ads didn’t call it “special sauce”
In the original 1968 advertisement, McDonald’s never mentioned “special sauce”. They call their new creation of “secret sauce”. As they slowly cook the hamburger, the narrator describes the ingredients: “A pure beef hamburger – hot and sizzling – a slice of cheddar cheese and a little fresh and crispy lettuce” appear on lightly toasted bread. So that’s where their “secret sauce” is generously spooned onto the hamburger. And by generous, we mean a large quantity of sauce. No wonder they needed the middle bun to keep the burger cakes from slipping.
2. With a new slogan comes a new name for Big Mac sauce
McDonald’s did not use the term “special sauce” until the introduction of the now-famous 1974 Big Mac jingle. Although it is not clear why they switched from a “special” sauce to a “secret” sauce, we know that they originally developed the campaign to impress people.
3. There were two versions of the sauce used in the original Big Macs
The Big Mac was created by Pittsburgh franchise owner Jim Delligatti in 1967. In an interview with Pittsburgh Magazine, Delligatti’s son admits that McDonald’s did not let his father sell a bigger burger. He “followed and experimented” until he developed “The Aristocrat”, the burger that is now called the Big Mac. It would be very difficult for a franchise owner to do so today since McDonald’s has chefs and test kitchens to develop new products.
Despite their initial apprehension, the sandwich was so successful that McDonald’s launched it nationally in 1968. There was only one problem: the creamy sauce characteristic of the sandwich did not appear on any other dish on the menu. By refining the Big Mac special sauce formula, McDonald’s franchises were using two different versions. Both sauces were appreciated. So the company eventually created a mixture of the two to eliminate inconsistencies and called it Big Mac Sauce “72”.
4. McDonald’s has changed the recipe for Big Mac sauce several times over the years
The original Big Mac sauce would have taken two years to develop, and it remained unchanged for more than 20 years, when, according to McDonald’s, the recipe was “modified in 1991 and remained so until 2004”. At about the same time, the company’s share price and profits were falling, so McDonald’s new CEO called Fred Turner, the company’s former chief operating officer, and former CEO, to retire. According to the Chicago Tribune, Turner could “taste” the reason why McDonald’s was in trouble: over the years, they had changed the special Big Mac sauce to reduce costs. Unfortunately, the original recipe had been lost, but Turner remembered the original Californian supplier. They worked together to get the recipe back and started making “a hamburger the same way they made a hamburger” again.
This is not the only change they have made to the special sauce over the years. In 2018, McDonald’s made significant changes to the ingredients. To increase quality, they have removed artificial preservatives, flavors and added colors from artificial sources from their traditional hamburgers, which means eliminating artificial preservatives such as potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate and EDTA disodium calcium from Big Mac Special sauce. We can’t imagine Jim Delligatti using artificial ingredients in the 1960s, so these changes may have brought the recipe closer to its original version.
5. The ingredients of Big Mac’s “secret” sauce are no longer so secret
For years, McDonald’s has protected the list of ingredients in Big Mac Special Sauce as a tightly protected government secret. McDonald’s Executive Chef Dan Coudreaut demystified the process when he answered a question from a customer and made the sauce on YouTube in 2012. “Honestly,” he explains, “the ingredients have been available in restaurants or… on the Internet for many years, so it’s not a secret.”
Coudreaut introduces us to a version of the Big Mac sauce made with commercial mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, classic yellow mustard, white wine vinegar, garlic powder, onion powder, and paprika, both in color and taste. Mix it all in a bowl and that’s it. Unfortunately, Coudreaut did not provide the quantities and we do not even know if this sauce is authentic. While many of the ingredients are similar to those on McDonald’s website, we are missing several things, such as soybean oil, salt, sugar, turmeric and unidentified “spices”, which surely contribute to this unique flavor.
6. McDonald’s Big Mac sauce is not a copy of Thousand Island’s
For a long time, many Big Mac consumers believed that the special sauce was a copy of Thousand Island sauce, a hot dressing made with mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles and onions (among other ingredients).
According to McDonald’s ingredient list, however, the sauce is not the same as this popular vinaigrette because it does not contain ketchup – or tomatoes at all, by the way. The pink color of the sauce probably comes from the addition of turmeric and paprika.
7. Big Mac sauce is delivered to McDonald’s in sealed containers
According to Inc (via Grunge), fast-foods have non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) signed by those who are aware of what goes into their special sauces to prevent them from revealing the list of secret ingredients.
Before McDonald’s released a version of the special sauce recipe, they kept their list of ingredients close to their breasts. But we still don’t know the “real” secret recipe, and we probably will never know it. That’s because it turns out that the sauce is delivered in sealed containers, reports the Kansas City Business Journal (via Grunge).
8. McDonald’s has already donated 10,000 bottles of Big Mac sauce (and sold one for a lot of money)
McDonald’s often offers promotional gifts. In 2017, the company announced big news: it said it would donate 10,000 bottles of Big Mac special sauce.
The previously unpackaged sauce made its debut in Australia in 2016, where it sold in 15 minutes. Not all these $5 bottles went into consumers’ pantry either; they were put up for sale on online auction sites and sold for hundreds of dollars. On the other side of the world, McDonald’s created an eBay auction for the very first bottle in the United Kingdom and sold it for about $100,000. The money would have gone to the Ronald McDonald House Charities.
9. Maharaja Mac Indian Chicken has its version of special sauce
The Big Mac is famous for its double beef patty, but it doesn’t work in India. The slaughter of cows is illegal in many states of the country, as the majority of Hindus practice sacred treatment of cows. McDonald’s India may not have all the menu options, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have their version of the famous Big Mac: the Maharaja Chicken Mac.
This sandwich still has the look and feel of the Big Mac – with two patties and three rolls – just without the beef. It took some time to develop what McDonald’s India supply chain manager calls a “complicated sandwich”, but chicken patties were the perfect alternative to beef.
10. The special sauce is not only for Big Mac
McDonald’s Special Sauce can be found in all types of sandwiches worldwide. We’re not just talking about the different types of Big Macs. Be aware that there are also derivatives of the special sauce, such as country Croatian, which features McDeluxe sauce (a spicier, mustard version of the signature sauce).