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How Irish are McDonald's Shamrock Shakes, Anyway?

March 13, 2013 at 3:54 PM | by | ()

Ah, the Shamrock Shake. This limited-time-only cup of swirly mint goodness is McDonald's small way of paying ode to St. Patrick's Day, but is it Irish at all?

The ingredients, pulled straight from the McDonald's official site, are listed as: vanilla reduced fat ice cream, Shamrock Shake syrup, whipped cream, maraschino cherry. Those last two are purely part of McD's serving suggestion, which we skip to save, like, 200 unnecessary calories.

Although no one official inventor of ice cream can be named, most articles on the history of ice cream agree that its origins can be traced to BC times, when it likely headed from China to Europe and found first popularity in France and Italy as "milk ice." The name only became "iced cream" when the first ice cream parlour opened in America, in New York City, in 1776. From here on, modern ice cream as we know it becomes a wholly American development, since the processes (commercial production, refrigeration, advanced recipes) were Yankee inventions.

As for mint syrup, its most popular use outside of coffee and medicine would be as an ingredient of a mint julep (in place of fresh mint). Mint juleps originated in the American south in the 1700s, right around the time ice cream was coming into its own, so their eventual cooperation in the Shamrock Shake was seemingly meant to be.

Notice we haven't said anything about Ireland, yet? As you may have guessed by now, the Shamrock Shake is an entirely American concoction, attributed to a man from Chicago who, using his "family recipe," began whipping them up in 1970.

Shamrock Shakes saw their McDonalds hey day in the 1980s, but a resurgence of popularity in 2010 (thanks, social media) means they're a very visible fast food item come February and March every year. Shamrock Shakes are only sold at North American McDs locations, with one huge exception: you can also buy the shakes at McDonalds in Ireland. That's about as Irish as they get.

If the lure of the Shamrock Shake lies more in the limited-time offer than in the mint syrup and green color, check out TIME's thoughtful piece on fast food "events" like this.

[Photos: Jaunted]

Archived Comments:


My son and I had these last night. They were so bad! We both had to throw them away. I think this is the first time my son has not finished a dessert in his life.


The first recorded use of the terms "ice cream" was a report on the dishes served at the Feast of St George at Windsor in May 1671 which included "One plate of Ice Cream". The first recipe for ice cream published in the English language was by a Mrs. Mary Eales in England in 1718. Ice cream was first recorded as being served in what became the United States by the wife of the Governor of Maryland in 1744. While iced desserts were popularized by contacts with the French after the Revolutionary War, the Americans stuck with the British taste for ice cream rather than the water ices favoured by the French. As for Shamrock Shakes being an American invention, I wouldn't argue with you there.