The Meat Swap McDonald's Made To 'Improve' Its McNuggets

When McDonald's introduced the Chicken McNugget to the global U.S. populace in 1983, it ushered in a seismic shift in the fast food landscape. Originally conceived by head chef Rene Arend after repeated failed attempts to crack the code on a non-beef option (including both vegetarian onion nuggets and deep fried chicken pot pie), McNuggets quickly became one of the most iconic fast food products in the world, ultimately making McDonald's the second biggest chicken retailer in the world, trailing only KFC. Though they're often derided ("what part of the chicken is the McNugget, anyway?") and have been the subject of lawsuits, it's impossible to deny McNuggets are one of the world's most recognizable fast food staples.

But just because they're a classic, doesn't mean they've never been subject to change. The recipe for McNuggets has changed a couple times over the four decades since their release, and none bigger than in 2003, when the company stopped using dark meat for them altogether. But why did this change happen in the first place?

The reasons McDonald's changed McNuggets are a little dubious

Obviously, dark and white meat chicken are going to differ significantly in both taste and texture, and McNuggets weren't an exception to this ironclad poultry rule. White meat tends to be leaner and thus drier, while dark meat is fattier and juicier. And up until 2003, half of each McNuggets container consisted of dark meat nuggets, while the other half were white meat. That's the point at which the switch happened.

As far as why the company made the switch, well, that's a little more dubious. In the 1990s and early 2000s, a lot of nutritionists were all aboard for claiming that white meat was healthier than dark meat because it contains less calories and not as much fat. The problem is, we now know that's largely bunk; the difference in calories is negligible, and the fat content potentially makes dark meat healthier than white meat. McDonald's bowed to (perceived, at least) public pressure, and a lot of people still aren't happy about it: there have been petitions to switch back to dark meat ever since. The fast food giant also hasn't fully extirpated the dark meat internationally in the decades since; it only changed the formula in Japan this year.

McDonald's has since made more changes to McNuggets

This isn't the only time McDonald's has made a significant change to the McNugget recipe in response to perceived health concerns — although the more recent change seems a lot less scientifically dubious than the switch away from dark meat. In August 2016, in response to rising concerns about artificial preservatives in food, McDonald's removed TBHQ and dimethylpolysiloxane from its recipe. Whether those ingredients are actually dangerous is up for debate — both the U.S. and the E.U. have declared TBHQ safe at lower levels of concentration, and there's no indication dimethylpolysiloxane is unsafe. But the public wanted fewer preservatives, so just like when it removed dark meat from McNuggets, McDonald's bowed to pressure.

Maybe you miss the old dark meat, preservative-laden McNuggets, or maybe you don't. Regardless of which version you prefer, though, they're still a classic fast food menu item — and there's a good chance you're about to order some for yourself right now.