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6 Fast-Food Milkshakes That Aren't Made With Real Ice Cream

Sweet and tasty yes, but ice cream? Not so much.
FACT CHECKED BY Meaghan Cameron

It's hard to believe that before the drink mixer was invented in 1911, milkshakes as we know them didn't exist. Milkshakes are one of the wonderful treats we expect at fast-food restaurants. The big three—McDonald's, Wendy's, and Burger King—all opened their very first locations with some variation of a frozen, blended drink next to their burgers and fries. Though it was Dairy Queen that served the first fast-food milkshake in 1949, after commercial blending machines were invented.

Not all fast-food milkshakes are created equal in terms of ingredients, and actually, some of those creamy concoctions don't contain any real ice cream, at all. If you look into the legal and technical definition of ice cream as stated by the FDA, you quickly regret it. The language is thicker than a pint of Rocky Road, with an exemplary excerpt being: "Ice cream contains not less than 1.6 pounds of total solids to the gallon, and weighs not less than 4.5 pounds to the gallon. Ice cream contains not less than 10 percent milkfat, nor less than 10 percent nonfat milk solids, except that when it contains milkfat at 1 percent increments above the 10 percent minimum."

Basically, though, to be considered actual legitimate ice cream, the product must be at least 10% dairy milkfat, have a limited amount of air mixed into it during its freezing and churning process, and meet specific weight per volume standards. Beyond that, there's wide latitude as per what other ingredients can be used, including flavoring, stabilizers, colors, and more.

It might surprise you, given the fact that you can find so many different ingredients in ice cream, that you won't find any ice cream at all in the shakes from the fast-food chains featured here—not technically speaking, anyway.

 7 Restaurant Chains That Use Real Ice Cream In Their Milkshakes

Wendy's Frosty

handing wendys frosty
Wendy's / Facebook

Although rich, thick, and delicious whether slurped through a straw or scooped with a spoon (or dipped into with a french fry), the iconic Frosty from Wendy's is not made with ice cream. A Frosty is referred to as a "frozen dessert" which is a phrase that will top you off that a product is not technically ice cream.

In a Frosty, you will find milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, nonfat dry milk, and a few more ingredients. There is not enough milkfat in this mixture so it cannot be considered ice cream. Not that anyone who has enjoyed a Frosty will much care. These sweet, frozen treats have been on the menu since Wendy's first opened in 1969 and now come in seasonal flavors like strawberry and peppermint alongside the original chocolate

McDonald's Shakes

mcdonalds milkshakes
Photo: McDonald's / Facebook

At a casual glance, you might think the McDonald's menu features milkshakes. It does not: it features "Shakes." At present, the chain's national menu offers a Chocolate Shake, Vanilla Shake, and a Strawberry Shake, and the fact that each is called a shake and not a milkshake is a matter of legal cover.

Per the McDonald's website: "Our shakes contain milk from our reduced-fat soft serve, which makes them thick and creamy. Dairy regulations actually vary from state to state on what can officially be called a 'milkshake.' We like to keep it simple and refer to them strictly as 'shakes.'"

If you take a closer look at the actual ingredients in the shake, you'll see that the reduced-fat ice cream the restaurant uses is made with milk, sugar, cream, corn syrup, flavors, and several stabilizer ingredients. Is that true ice cream? Technically no, if we're going by the FDA's definition.

Dairy Queen Shakes

dq milkshake
Courtesy of Dairy Queen

We know, the irony is thick here: a chain literally named for a word referring to milk products can't claim to offer a milkshake made with real ice cream. In fact, like McDonald's, Dairy Queen doesn't even call its shakes milkshakes, it too sticks with "shakes." And malts.

Both the shakes and malts at DQ use as a base "Artificially Flavored Vanilla Reduced Fat Ice Cream" which, according to the proper definition of ice cream is not real ice cream.

Burger King Shakes

Meaghan Cameron/Eat This, Not That!

Sure, that OREO Cookie Shake from Burger King may taste great but it's not a real milkshake if your definition of a milkshake involves real ice cream. The chain's website description of its shakes makes clear their base is "creamy, vanilla soft serve" and never once uses the term "ice cream" anywhere.

More of a concern than the presence or absence of ice cream here is the nutrition info. An OREO Cookie Shake contains 636 calories, nearly 17 grams of fat, 9.8 grams of saturated fat, and 84.8 grams of sugar. For reference, a Whopper has only 34 more calories, at 670. Though that iconic burger's fats and sodium and such far surpass that of the shake, of course.

Jack in the Box Shakes

jack in the box shakes
Jack in the Box / Facebook

To be honest, it's not entirely clear what you get in a shake from Jack in the Box except that it's definitely not real ice cream. The confusion comes from the fact that the fast-food chain's site lists two completely different lists of ingredients for its "Shake Mix."

The first list of ingredients states the shakes are made with a base of: "Milk, Cane Syrup, Nonfat Milk, Cream, Corn Syrup, Whey, Stabilizer (Propylene Glycol Monoesters, Mono & Diglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Disodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Dextrose, Silicon Dioxide to prevent caking), Natural and Artificial Flavor, Annatto for color."

Ah, but then there comes the word "OR" and then this list, which has multiple differences: "Milk, Sucrose, Cream, Corn Syrup, Nonfat Milk, Whey, Stabilizer (Propylene Glycol Monoesters, Mono & Diglycerides, Cellulose Gum, Disodium Phosphate, Guar Gum, Carrageenan, Dextrose, Silicon Dioxide to prevent caking), Natural and Artificial Vanilla, Annatto (for color)."
So, it's a non-ice cream roll of the dice.

Chick-fil-A Milkshakes

chick-fil-a milkshake
Photo: Chick-fil-A / Facebook

There may be yet another controversy headed for Chick-fil-A with this one, albeit a less political one than the chain has faced in the past: this one is more about semantics. See, Chick-fil-A takes the bold step of calling its milkshakes, well, milkshakes. But that implies they are made with real ice cream.

They are not. Read, for example, the description of the chain's Vanilla Milkshake on its site: "Our creamy Vanilla Milkshakes are hand-spun the old-fashioned way each time and feature delicious Chick-fil-A Icedream dessert, topped with whipped cream and a cherry."

Now, what is Chick-fil-A Icedream? It's basically classic soft-serve. But, per The Daily Meal, it lacks the butterfat required to be considered true ice cream, and in our book, that means these are not true milkshakes.

Steven John
Steven John is a freelancer writer for Eat This, Not That! based just outside New York City. Read more about Steven