Here’s Why Sprite at McDonald’s Tastes So Good
While McDonald's Sprite trends on Twitter yet again, a franchise owner and a sensory scientist explain why the lemon-lime soda seems to hit differently.
McDonald’s Sprite memes have electrified the Twitterverse, and we’re here for every bubbly post. As Twitter users likened the intensity of McDonald’s Sprite to rocket fuel and lobbied for its addition to the periodic table, the two iconic brands took their best shots.
The fast-food giant posted an Ice Age meme with dinosaurs fleeing from a sparkling glass of McDonald’s Sprite. And the soft drink manufacturer hinted that Mickey D’s fountain version of its lemony-lime soda is the nectar of the Gods by depicting Zeus atop Mount Olympus, getting a surge of power from none other than McDonald’s Sprite.
A stretch? Well, maybe only spritely, er, slightly. After all, its cousins, McDonald’s Coke and Mexican Coke, have been crushing it on social media and in real life. The discourse begs the question: What exactly makes McDonald’s Sprite so extra? Gather round, fans of food facts trivia—and McDonald’s facts in particular—because we’re about to get to the bottom of it.
Why does McDonald’s Sprite taste so good?
The crisp, powerful flavor of McDonald’s Sprite starts with the water that’s added to the syrup mix. “We have four different levels of filtration before the water makes it to our soda tower,” says James McIntyre, who owns five McDonald’s franchises in Pennsylvania. “We change the water filters at least every six months, and the water is prechilled before mixing with the syrup.”
That’s important because cold water is better for carbonation. McIntyre also notes that the water for the ice is filtered as well.
Quality inspections also factor into the equation. “Coca-Cola checks our systems every six months,” he says. “And that includes testing the ratio of syrup to water.” It’s been widely reported that McDonald’s uses a higher syrup-to-carbonated water ratio than the version of the drink sold in cans and bottles.
McDonald’s also credits the delivery method. Just as McFlurry spoons differ from regular spoons, McDonald’s straws are wider than average, which the company says distributes the drink over a wider area of taste buds.
One thing that doesn’t play a role: the vessel that the syrup arrives in. While Coke shows up in stainless steel tanks, according to McIntyre, Sprite comes in a box lined with a plastic bag.
Does McDonald’s have a special Sprite?
While it seems like McDonald’s Sprite is a legitimately different product than its store-bought counterparts, that’s just a McDonald’s rumor. A sensory scientist postulates that the salt in other menu items—like McDonald’s french fries, hamburgers, and chicken McNuggets—may come into play.
If you’re washing down your fry order with a Sprite, sweet-salty interactions are bound to happen. “A bit of salt may enhance your perception of sweetness,” says Paul Wise, PhD, an associate member of Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia.
Taste effects of salt are complex, but some recently identified mechanisms in sweet-sensitive taste cells need sodium to function, says Wise. So the next time you order a Sprite and an employee asks, “You want fries with that?” brace yourself for an extra jolt.
- James McIntyre, McDonald’s franchise owner
- Paul Wise, PhD, associate member of Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia
- McDonald’s: “Why Does Coca-Cola Taste So Good At McDonald’s?”
- New York Post: “Why McDonald’s Coke Tastes Better Than All the Other Cokes”
- UCSB Science Line: “Why does warm soda have more carbonation?”