McDonald's has been synonymous with the entire fast food industry, which has inherently made it the scapegoat for most of the criticism against fast food. Amongst its chain restaurant competitors, it's actually the team player that often takes one for the team when attacked by nutritionists and health food activists. To maintain its defense (or at least attempt to do so), McDonald's likes to highlight its healthier options every now and then -- this time as a part of their new "Made Just For You" ad campaign, which not only gives self-importance to classic items like the Big Mac, but to upcoming new items like the Mango Pineapple Real Fruit Smoothie (which was only before available in some test markets), and rebooted ones, like the Asian Salad. Here's how they rate:
The Claims: The Mango Pineapple Smoothie is a purée of mango and pineapple, blended with ice and optionally with yogurt (which has some added sugar in it). The Asian Salad contains salad greens tossed with edamame, snow peas, red bell peppers, mandarin oranges, and sliced almonds, and is optionally served with grilled or crispy chicken. (240 calories without chicken; 360 with grilled chicken, including dressing)
The Verdict: B+ . Take that letter grade with a grain of salt; to be completely transparent, it should be known that these items, along with a few others, were sampled in the most optimally controlled environment: at a private press junket held at one of New York City's recently-redesigned chic-looking McDonald's, with a contemporary interior design decked out with displays of fresh fruits and vegetables for the event -- the visual representation of a blatant focus on nutrition. Never mind that food was served like hors-d'oeuvres by waitresses walking around with trays; the bottom line is, the smoothie and salad were fresh and quite appetizing, particularly with all the attention to detail that comes when serving the press -- a quality assurance that might not be guaranteed to the regular consumer (especially during a lunchtime rush).
Questions in the consistency of quality control aside, the smoothie was quite refreshing, with the sweet taste of very ripened mangoes (or is that the added sugar?) overpowering the taste of pineapple. It complemented the Asian Salad nicely -- an item that hasn't been on the menu since 2008 due to an unsustainable mass supply of ingredients like edamame -- which was decent as far as fast food salads go; the lettuce was crisp, the edamame firm, and the mandarin oranges tender. The taste was a nice blend of savory and sweet, particularly when served with a supposedly revamped version of Paul Newman's Sesame Ginger Dressing, which, like most items at McDonalds, was engineered for particular flavors (and calorie counts) that are deemed satisfying through market research. The new recipe for the chicken in the salad (as well as the revamped grilled chicken sandwich) was also decent, but negligible in taste compared to the old recipe. In fact, I wouldn't have known there was any intentional upgrade if not for some PR spiel and an on-site cooking demonstration by McDonald's Senior Director of Culinary Innovation Daniel Coudreaut, who highlighted his simplified approach on seasoning chicken breasts.
Speaking of chicken, four new sauces were unveiled to the masses for their popular McNuggets: Creamy Ranch, your basic generic ranch dressing; Spicy Buffalo, also a pretty standard sauce with expected flavor; Chipotle BBQ, a slightly spicier version of their regular barbecue sauce; and Sweet Chili, which is a slightly spicier version of the duck sauce you get in packets at a generic Chinese take-out joint. With that said, the palate for most the new items leaned on the "Asian" side, although when asked about what makes the Asian Salad particularly "Asian," Coudreaut recognized that it had no authentic culinary association with the Far East. "It's poetic license," he said, citing that Wolfgang Puck also served a similar salad that was deemed "Asian."
If poetic license can help market a healthier alternative to McNuggets or Big Macs, then so be it; McDonald's needs to pull out all the stops if it's ever going to overcome its stigma of being bad for your health -- although that day will probably never come with everything else on their menu.