About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008
The Apple & McDonalds
Our daughter M loves a McDonalds' Happy Meal as much as any young person and has her favourite combo from the choices she's provided with, one of her picks is even healthy. McDonalds upped that healthy ante yesterday, when we were served by someone new to the job - a common occurrence - who put a wrong item into the bag, another regular problem.

Instead of their world famous fries, M unhappily discovered she had been given a bag of apple slices, one of the foods on her personalised forbidden list. Now it's fair to say they wouldn't kill her, though in witnessing the carry on, you might be inclined to disagree. The truth is, M simply doesn't like apples*.

The bag of apple slices was lying forlornly on the table when I spied it last night and decided to share some with my wife. Opened the bag and we both popped a slice of creamy white, delicious looking apple into our mouths and in a fully synchronised moment, spat them out together.

It was apple that didn't taste of apple, it was like a chemical factory operating in our mouths.

All cooks know that if you want to hold cut apple for a few hours, it needs a little bath in lemon juice to stop the browning caused by oxidation. McDonalds, however, take a different tack. Needing their apple slices to last for a few days in the bag, they use chemicals to keep them a pearly white and another chemical to stop the slices sticking together. These are the culprits.

300 - Ascorbic acid (antioxidant)
302 - Calcium ascorbate (antioxidant)
170 - Calcium carbonate (colour, anti-caking agent)

I applaud McDonalds for at least trying to have healthy choices on their menu, but they need to rethink the apple slices option. They are risking turning a whole generation of children permanently off apples.

*There's also a warning that the packet of slices may contain apple pips, fair call. M might be right after all, eat enough pips and you will die. Each one carries a tiny trace of cyanide, but, one would have to eat an astonishing quantity to have such an effect; soberingly though, there is a recorded death from eating them.
  posted at 7:36 am

At 10:37 am, Blogger Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

There is a small (well, maybe not all that small) chain of restaurants here, Panera, which offers whole apples as an alternative to potato chips. Now, if they can figure out how to offer whole fruit without any preservatives, why can't McDonald's do the same?

At 1:17 pm, Blogger Thermomixer said...

There are lots of weird things being added - calcium carbonate is just limestone. I have only once eaten MacDonalds - in Goulburn 13 years ago on the way to a gourmet weekend cooking school(!!!), because my partner needed something to eat. But what do people think about calcium gluconate, calcium lactate, calcium chloride, sodium citrate, methylcellulose, sodium alginate ?? Our most acclaimed restaurant in Melb uses them everyday for spherification, emulsification and gelification.

At 2:05 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi lydia, that's exactly what I was thinking, apple skin is the obvious answer to keeping apples white...and tasty.

Hi thermomixer, you make a good point, there are a lot of chemicals we eat without any fuss. As you say, calcium carbonate is limestone, but I still don't want my apples covered in chalk dust, it doesn't taste any good.

At 2:49 pm, Blogger Thermomixer said...

I don't like the thought of apples in chalk either and not with that other stuff that leaves a bitter after-taste. Who buys this stuff? Have they ever tasted an apple? Can they not tell the difference? When small restaurants with good food go bust you must wonder - there must be a demand for foul-tasting bitter chalky apples. I'll start my business plan.

At 8:48 pm, Blogger Dani said...


Mind you plain old non-organic apples are covered in pesticide and waxy stuff that makes them feel weird and slippery. I'm too scared to buy them because I don't believe I can wash it off properly and I can't be stuffed peeling them. I just want good old unadulterated apple.

At 1:38 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

First things first HATE the evil Mac empire! wont eat there, wont allow my children to work there, the way they have damaged our society and environment of the last forty years but I digress...

Your post reminds me of an article I read many years ago that started with a very long chemical formula as the first sentence, the second asked if you would eat it, third explained that was the chemical formula expression of the make up of a standard tomato.

That article showed how we fear the words of science we do not readily understand.It hoped to educate through gently pointing out those fears.

This post Neil, is lazy because you pulled on that fear and did not aim to inform or empower us, your readers, just to scare those less informed or at the very least help entrench existing prejudices.

Dani's comment above is the smoking gun to prove that is the reaction you will get.

Please inspire us with you posts, not try and scare us less than detailed misinformation.

These additives are not necessary the reason the product is crap. How about lowest common denominator taste testing, bad process, the cheapest produce? That would easily account for a very ordinary food like substance.


Ascorbic acid is a name for what we call vitamin C

The second again is vitamin C in a different form

Calcium Carbonate as stated earlier is chalk.

All of these things are very common in the food we eat, some naturally occurring, the last added to soy milk to help increase calcium intake. If you have ever seen someone suffer from osteoporosis, then you know calcium in your diet is a must have.If you haven't, you should, that is scary.

If you need to know more about food and its make up Harold Mcgee's book on food science is great.

Neil love your writings you are clever, fun and passionate about your food. I look forward to reading your posts in the future.

Sorry to seem so grumpy you are too good to allow to get lazy in this way with your writing.

At 1:44 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dani while you may "feel" that way but you are wrong in your assumptions about apples and how they are grown, treated, stored,transported and even why they feel that way to the touch at times.

I suggest you visit the the orchard at Ripponlea house from November to April and see for your self how apples grow, look, feel and see the changes and then leave one you pick on the bench until end of June or July how ever long it lasts.

Then go talk to an apple grower. Ask questions, be polite it will be far more interesting than you thought.You will learn lots.

At 8:25 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi thermomixer, I think who buys this stuff are parents who feel badly about buying food from Maccas in the first place, it's a small way to assuage the guilt.

Hi dani, hear, hear, but they are either hard to get or very expensive. We travel to an orchard at Red Hill to get beautiful, unwaxed apples that are so full of flavour that it makes you wonder how the supermarkets stuff them up.

Hi anon, I think you missed the part where I wrote that both my wife and I spat out the apple slices because they were foul from a chemical taste and then pointed out what chemicals had been added to achieve such a sorry state of affairs. The piece had nothing to do with the complex formulae of mundane foods, nor was it scare mongering, it was about a real experience that was warning readers what to expect. If that's lazy, you must be Ronald McDonald himself. Which leads to another point. Who do you think you are, uncalled for, telling a reader to be polite? At least Dani has a profile, you are cowardly sniping from under the cloak of anonymity, have the guts to show yourself or fuck off.

At 2:18 am, Blogger MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

Ouch! on Anon.
I just love you Neil!
And I'm grinning ear to ear with the fully synchronised moment.

At 9:44 pm, Blogger Squishy said...

Now seriously, that is just gross.

At 10:55 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm...I hate to state the obvious here, but what did you expect from McDonalds? Really? Apple that tastes like apple? I actually find the latest incarnation of the McDonald's empire truly terrifying, attempting to entice families to eat their 'food' with the lure of 'healthy' foods. It's an incredibly creepy marketing ploy.

At 7:21 am, Blogger Gigi said...

Ha! The New and Improved McDonald's ~ Now with More Cyanide!! I'm sure there's an exciting new marketing tool in there somewhere.

Don't you just love sanctimonious scolds who lecture other people on how to write their posts, and then go on to instruct their readers on how to behave in public? (Oh, and ascorbic acid is vitamin C?! Ooo, do tell!!) And why are they always named Anonymous?

We, your poor, ignorant readership love and salute you, Neil! :)

At 8:16 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, thanks, it was a pretty funny moment. I bet D could see the light bulb go off too..."There's a new post!"

Hi squishy, it really was. It takes a lot for me to spit food out. Why is it that they can't use a whole apple?

Hi juniper, I really wasn't expecting that, I saw the bag and decided to have some apple. Perhaps I should have realized that there must have been additives; it sure didn't take long to discover them.

For some unknown reason our young daughter likes their pasta, chips and milk drink with a flavoured straw, I know what's coming next too...pineapple on pizza!

Hi gigi, yeah, I can see it, "For a naturally assisted death, try our apple in a bag!" The only trouble with that is the preservatives might prolong the whole affair!

I'm sure all the anons in the world just don't get it, their minds are already made up before they read the posts.


At 10:22 am, Blogger Ran said...

there was a program on the abc 2 nights ago about the science behind apple pieces (not sure if it was the same brand maccas use). Apparently the apply industry loses a lot of fruit that are perfectly good, but too ugly to sell. So using them as pieces is apparently a good thing to apple producers as they dont lose stock. The science is basically trying to replicate the lemon affect using the paired down chemicals which in itself isnt so bad, but when you can taste it, it obviously is not so good.
I say use unsellable fruit for juicing and purees and other products. apple pieces really is a bad idea.
the calcium carbonate is probably there to absorb water/ moisture (thats what i use it for in my day job as a chemist)

At 12:29 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi ran, if the apple marketing board can't solve the problem of the chemical taste on apple slices, they risk hurting their main market of fresh apples by association. I understand their desire to find a new market for unsaleable apples, but it might damage them in the long run as people are put off apples and turn to other fruits instead. As you say, juice 'em. I reckon it was probably the calcium carbonate that we could taste.

At 4:59 am, Anonymous Allison said...

I think that anonymous poster misunderstood your point as far as taste goes. But as far as the science goes, he/she is correct. These additives are natural health neutraceuticals, and quite healthy...
Ascorbic acid is vitamin C:


Calcium ascorbate is another form of Vitamin C:


Calcium carbonate is a supplement prescribed to increase calcium:


And this post isn't anonymous, since I can back this all up with sources. These things are quite common to preserve foods, and they are not harmful. Quite the opposite: they're generally seen as necessary when you use their common names.

The taste? Well there should be a better way for sure, such as a whole apple. But McDonald's probably won't do that due to the inconvenience of having to eat it. Also, you can't dip it in sugar if it's whole. And we know that the sugar in that dip that comes with the apples the real travesty. It is unnecessary for sure! Why eat something healthy when you will ruin all the health effects with simple sugars?? They really need to rethink healthy if that is the case!

At 2:06 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see from the comments that there is confusion about the reason for using calcium carbonate on apples and who puts it there. Growers use calcium carbonate on apples to prevent sunburn. Fruit surface temperature can be as high as 30 degrees above ambient air temperature and UVB rays destroy the apple tissue leading to breakdown in storage. Calcium carbonate reflects the light an is a harmless, natural, tasteless substance that is washed off by the warehouses that store and transport the apples. Without sunburn protection, production would be greatly diminished and the price of your apples would skyrocket. The apples are washed thoroughly by the processors who slice/bag them for McDonalds. The apples are sliced because they may have limb rubs, frost marks, odd shapes - all physiological defects caused by Mother Nature, but rejected by consumers. I have no reason to promote or defend McDonalds, but as an apple producer, I know that McDonalds has very high standards for their produce purchases.

At 7:59 am, Anonymous Nikki said...

I couldn't have said it better Neil! It was very clear you were talking about a real life experience.
I had the same experience just this morning.
My baby girl got some apples from mc Donalds yesterday and the bag was left open on the bench overnight.
This morning I tasted one and spat it out. Then I looked at it and it was still creamy white.
I called McDonalds and she told me that they use a "natural" preservative.
My question was-WHY IS IT NOT WRITTEN ON THE PACKET? Read the ingredients list on the back and it says : sliced apples

At 5:08 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I looked at other uses for the preservative antioxidant 300, and it stated on the website I was cruising that preservative 300 was also used in plastics, resins etc....
YUK!!! and it is promoted to our children! What an outrage!! I started cruising the web after also spitting out a chunk of apple from one of the "healthy" option fruit bags.....

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