McDonald’s fries are amazing and addictive. But only if crispy. If they’re soggy, well, they’re awful. It’s a major problem that plagues fried food, particularly fried fast food when delivered.
With delivery and to-go orders soaring during the pandemic, marketing “crisp” is risky if the food arrives at consumers’ homes limp and listless. In a quest to keep the crunch as long as possible, many chains are tweaking their recipes, trying different additives, formulations, cooking techniques and temperatures.
Delivery orders at U.S. restaurants were 154% higher in January 2021 than they were a year earlier, according to data analytics firm The NPD Group/CREST.
Delivery orders for fast food more than doubled last year.
But crispier food can cost more. A 30-pound box of the cheapest french-fries can run about $12 to $15 wholesale to restaurants, according to Barry Friends, a partner at food industry consultant Pentallect. Top tier fries made with drier, higher-quality potatoes and sealants can run up to $45 a box.
One McDonald’s franchisee told Reuters its fries stay fresh about seven minutes after coming out of the fryer. That’s not a long time to get food delivered.
In a March video review of new fried chicken sandwiches from major chains, Restaurant Business magazine editor-in-chief, Jonathan Maze said McDonald’s Crispy Chicken sandwich is “not as crisp as the name would have you believe,” though he thought it was “a very nicely done piece of chicken.”
Two suppliers to McDonald’s – both of which also supply other chains – told Reuters in early February that McDonald’s was trying new formulations for breading, hoping to devise a coating that can help its chicken patties stay crunchy longer.
The world’s largest restaurant chain denied that any such “official tests” for were underway for its chicken or fries, but noted that it did introduce foil pouches to keep its new chicken sandwiches fresher for longer.
Potato processor Lamb Weston Holdings Inc, which sells fries to McDonald’s and KFC-owner Yum Brands Inc, markets “Crispy on Delivery” fries developed in 2018, that it claims have a “revolutionary coating.” The company told Reuters it has seen restaurants’ demand for them quadruple in the three months to Jan. 31 from a year earlier.
Lamb Weston also provides chains with store-to-door training on keeping fries crispy until they reach customers’ homes.
Ingredion Inc, which makes sweeteners and starches for sale to restaurants, told Reuters it developed a crispy outer coating for french fries that keeps oil from penetrating the potato upon frying and helps the potato retain moisture without getting slimy after delivery.
Such tactics helped Ingredion extend fry “freshness” to between 10 and 25 minutes, up from five minutes previously, “with a marginal but livable, reduction in crispiness,” Greg Aloi, vice president of Ingredion’s Customer Co-Creation & Innovation, claimed to Reuters.
As for chicken patties, major chains increasingly use flours made from plants such as fava beans and chickpeas to increase the crunchy texture, the two restaurant suppliers told Reuters.
Chains also add more starch and hydrocolloid-based gums such as xanthan and guar gum to retain the structure of the coating for longer, the suppliers said.
Friends, of Pentallect, said the smartest restaurants are now focused on this issue “because traveling food has now become a much, much more important part of the entire food-service equation.”
All of this tells us one thing; the problem hasn’t been solved yet. The most reliable way to get crispy fried fast food is to use the old method of actually going to the restaurant. Old school, maybe, but the fries will be awesome.