Canadian journalist Malcolm Gladwell has revealed why McDonald's French fries don't taste as good as they once did back in the glory days, AKA the '90s.

Despite McDonald's best interests for its consumers, they're left with a product that "tastes like cardboard", Gladwell said.

"They made the world's greatest French Fry. Then they threw it away."

Gladwell describes tasting his first ever French fry at the age of 13, in 1992. Like many of us, he felt "a slice of potato, crispy on the outside yet somehow pillowy soft on the inside.

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"Right then and there, I gave my heart to McDonald's," Gladwell said in Revionist History, his podcast about all things overlooked and misunderstood.

"Then McDonald's broke it."

He began a quest to understand why McDonald's "betrayed" him and the rest of us so many years ago and it turns out there's more to the story than you might think.

McDonald's changed the recipe of their French fries on July 23, 1990, and it hasn't looked back.

It's all thanks to a man by the name of Phil Sokolof, an American crusader whose heart attack in 1966 "turned him into a national evangelist of a low-cholesterol diet," according to The New York Times.

After a heart attack at 43, Mr Sokolof switched gears on nutrition. "I was a student in the greasy hamburger school of nutrition for my first 43 years," Mr. Sokolof wrote in 1991.

Over the years, the businessman spent $US3 million of his own money financing newspaper ads condemning fast food chains like McDonald's for poisoning America and beyond. He founded the National Heart Savers Association in 1985 and convinced McDonald's to produce a low-fat, low-cholesterol hamburger in 1991.

"I can't say we're going to tear down the golden arches by the year 2000," Mr. Sokolof told
The New York Times in 1990, "but I am confident that by the year 2000 they are going to be serving more healthful food."

At the time, McDonald's was cooking its French fries in beef tallow, an animal fat. Sokolof put out a full-page ad attacking the chain, headlined "the poisoning of America", accusing mcdonalds of selling fries loaded in fat.

The fast food chain denied the rumours and said the allegations were reckless, misleading and intending to scare. It was a David v Goliath battle - and McDonald's was the big bad wolf.

America - and the world - were watching. McDonald's knew it was losing the battle - and on July 23, 1990, came that fateful day. "McDonald's gave in, they folded," Gladwell opined. Soon, others followed. Wendy's went with corn oil. Burger King jumped ship too.

And in doing so, completely changed the taste. Completely changed the one key ingredient that made McDonald's famous in the first place.

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"To most people a French fried potato is a pretty uninspiring object," Ray Kroc, the businessman who bought the Californian chain in 1954 from the McDonald's brothers, wrote in his autobiography, The Crucial Passage.

"It's fodder, something to kill time chewing between bites of hamburger and swallows of milkshake. That's your ordinary French fry.

"The McDonald's French fry was in an entirely different league. They lavished attention on it. I didn't know it then but one day I would too. The French fry would become almost sacrament to me. It's preparation a ritual to be followed religiously."

Gladwell explained that by changing the fat, described as "Formula 47", McDonald's changed everything about the fry.

He said that when Kroc was running the show, he was adamant over the cooking of the fry. The McDonald's brother's had given him strict instructions - do not cook French fries in fat previously used to cook anything else - and Kroc was strict on this matter.

But over the years, McDonald's lost its way, thanks to some "random guy from Omaha". As hysteria grew over saturated fat McDonald's was panicked to find a healthy solution.

"They went from frying them in beef tallow to frying them in some combination of vegetable oil," Gladwell explained.

"And as you dig into this, what you realise is that that is not an inconsequential move. It's not like when you're frying an egg where it doesn't really matter what you fry it in. A fried egg is a fried egg.

"A French fry is a combination of a potato and some kind of cooking element. The thing you fry it in becomes a constituent part of the fry."

But it turns out, they were wrong. Tastebud devastating wrong.

"It turns out to be false that vegetable oil is healthier for you than beef tallow," he said.

"So not only did they destroy the French fry, they gave us something that was worse for us from a health perspective. So everything about it was a mistake.

"If they had any balls at all, they would turn around and say, 'We were wrong, and we're going back to fries the old way,'" he said.