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What Are McDonald’s Shakes and Why Are They Not Called Milkshakes?

McDonald’s shakes are thick and creamy, but have you ever wondered why they’re not called milkshakes? Although some rumors have hypothesized that it’s because they don’t contain any dairy products, the real answer is more of a technicality.

Key Takeaways

  • McDonald’s has chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry shakes made from reduced-fat soft serve ice cream blended with syrup and topped with whipped cream.
  • McDonald’s doesn’t call its shakes ‘milkshakes’ because of varying dairy regulations in each state.
  • The seasonal Shamrock shake is available every year around February 21st and through St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th and several days after the holiday.

In this article, we’ll cover what McDonald’s shakes are and what you can expect when ordering them. We’ll also take a closer look at the popular seasonal Shamrock shake and its history.

Read on for the sweet details!  

Why Doesn’t McDonald’s Call Its Shakes ‘Milkshakes’?

McDonald’s doesn’t call its shakes ‘milkshakes’ because the fat content of a McDonald’s shake does not qualify it as a milkshake under some dairy regulations.

In addition, what defines a milkshake varies by location.

Milkshakes and other foods are regulated by guidelines, one of which is how much fat content is in a milkshake.

McDonald’s shakes are made with the reduced-fat soft serve that makes them thick and creamy but doesn’t contain enough fat to qualify them as a milkshake in some states.

Furthermore, milkshakes simply aren’t the same everywhere.

Some states consider blended ice cream a milkshake, while others call it a frappe, and some make milkshakes by simply combining milk and syrup.

Rather than serving a different menu in each state, McDonald’s chose to keep things simple and call them ‘shakes’ instead.

What Are McDonald’s Shakes Made Of?

McDonald’s shakes are made of vanilla reduced-fat ice cream, shake syrup, and whipped lite cream. The reduced-fat ice cream contains milk and cream, while the shake syrup flavors are primarily sugars and flavoring.  

The base of each McDonald’s shake is their vanilla reduced-fat ice cream, which is made of the following ingredients:

  • Milk
  • Sugar
  • Cream
  • Corn Syrup
  • Natural Flavor
  • Mono and Diglycerides
  • Cellulose Gum
  • Guar Gum
  • Carrageenan
  • Vitamin A Palmitate

The vanilla soft serve is blended with syrup to create each shake flavor.

The chocolate syrup uses rich cacao, the vanilla uses sweet vanilla extract, and the strawberry shake syrup contains real strawberries.

Each milkshake is also topped with whipped lite cream to put the final touch on these sweet and creamy desserts.

What Shakes Does McDonald’s Have?

McDonald’s has three standard shake flavors – chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Each shake begins with the same vanilla soft serve ice cream base and is then flavored by a shake syrup and topped with whipped cream.

Let’s take a closer look at each shake at McDonald’s.

1. Chocolate

Courtesy of McDonald’s

The McDonald’s Chocolate shake is a decadent treat for any chocolate lover.

It blends thick vanilla soft serve with a chocolate shake syrup made with real cocoa to create a rich, smooth, chocolatey drink.

This shake comes in a small, medium, or large size and is served with whipped lite cream. 

2. Vanilla

Courtesy of McDonald’s

The McDonald’s Vanilla shake gets its vanilla flavor from the soft serve ice cream and uses a vanilla shake syrup made with vanilla extract to intensify the flavor.

This Vanilla shake comes in a small, medium, or large size and is served with whipped lite cream. 

3. Strawberry

Courtesy of McDonald’s

The McDonald’s Strawberry shake is not only sweet and creamy but also refreshing with its real strawberry flavor.

Strawberries and cream are a classic combination, and the real strawberries and strawberry puree concentrate used in the syrup make this shake a tasty treat.

This shake comes in a small, medium, or large size and is served with whipped lite cream.  

How Many Calories Are in a McDonald’s Shake?

McDonald’s shakes have between 510 and 840 calories. The Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry shakes have similar calories, and each size has a difference of approximately 100 calories.

Calories (Small)Calories (Medium)Calories (Large)
Calories in McDonald’s Shakes

A small Chocolate shake has 520 calories, a medium has 620, and large size has 840 calories.

Similarly, a small Vanilla shake has 510 calories, and medium and large sizes have 610 and 820 calories, respectively.

Lastly, a small Strawberry shake has 530 calories, a medium size has 620, and a large size has 840 calories.

How Much Do McDonald’s Shakes Cost?

McDonald’s shakes typically cost between $2.49 and $3.49. There is a fifty-cent difference between each size, but there is no price difference between flavors.

 Price (Small)Price (Medium)Price (Large)
McDonald’s Shakes Prices

The three standard shake flavors cost the same at McDonald’s, so you don’t have to feel bad about choosing your favorite.

A small shake at Mcdonald’s typically costs $2.49, a medium shake costs $2.99, and a large shake costs $3.49.

Keep in mind that McDonald’s restaurants are franchise-owned, and prices may vary slightly depending on the location.

What Is a Shamrock Shake?

Courtesy of McDonald’s

The Shamrock shake is McDonald’s famous seasonal shake with a minty flavor and festive green tint. It comes out every year in time for St. Patrick’s Day and has become a beacon of the coming of spring for many fans.

McDonald’s Shamrock shake is made of reduced fat vanilla soft serve ice cream, whipped lite cream, and McDonald’s signature Shamrock syrup.

This syrup contains sugars, mint flavoring, and green dye to create a sweet and fresh flavor with a perfect color for celebrating St. Patrick’s Day and the coming of spring.

The Shamrock Shake can be ordered in four sizes: small, medium, large, and child size.

Like other shakes at McDonald’s, the Shamrock shake also comes topped with whipped lite cream.

A child Shamrock shake has 500 calories, a small size has 540, a medium size has 730, and a large size has 1,120 calories.

In addition, a small McDonald’s Shamrock shake typically costs $3.69, a medium size costs $4.29, and a large size costs $4.79.

You can also order extra whipped cream for an additional 99 cents. 

This seasonal special has a long and full history.

Here are some fun facts that you may not know about the Shamrock shake:

  • The Shamrock Shake first made its debut in 1970 at select McDonald’s locations in the US.
  • In 1974, the first Ronald McDonald House was built in Philadelphia using the profits from Shamrock Shake sales.
  • The “World’s Largest Shamrock Shake” stood 24 feet tall. It was made on St. Patrick’s Day 2010 and poured into the Chicago River to honor a $10,000 donation to create housing in the city.
  • The Shamrock Shake was only available at select locations in its early years, so fans created a website to track which restaurants were serving it. In 2018, the McDonald’s Finder app made it even easier by offering an official directory for every McDonald’s location serving the shake.
  • The Shamrock Shake first became available nationwide in 2021.
  • McDonald’s released the Oreo Shamrock McFlurry in 2020 to celebrate the Shamrock Shake’s 50th anniversary and has been releasing it each year since. The new special combines the Shamrock Shake with McDonald’s signature Oreo McFlurry to create a mint-flavored vanilla soft serve with Oreo cookie crumbles swirled throughout.
  • The Oreo McFlurry isn’t the first variation that has been made of the Shamrock shake. In 2017, McDonald’s offered the shake with a limited-edition engineer-designed straw that delivered a perfect blend of chocolate and mint with every sip.
  • Back in 1980, McDonald’s also released a Shamrock sundae, which topped vanilla soft serve with mint-green Shamrock syrup. 

When Does the Shamrock Shake Come Out?

Shamrock Shakes come out each year in February. They are available for several weeks before St. Patrick’s Day and several days after that.

Exact dates may vary by year and location, but this seasonal shake will always return in time to celebrate the holiday and the coming of spring.

Each year, the Shamrock shake reappears on McDonald’s menus around February 21st.

It is then available through St. Patrick’s Day on March 17th and several days after the holiday, but not beyond the end of the month.

In total, there are approximately 4-5 weeks each year to get this popular seasonal dessert.


McDonald’s shakes are a thick and creamy dessert that combines reduced-fat vanilla soft serve ice cream with shake syrup and a whipped cream topping. Shakes come in chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry flavors.

The seasonal Shamrock shake is a popular fourth option with a minty sweet flavor and a festive green color.

If you’re looking for more tips about McDonald’s, check out the articles below.

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Last Updated: November 16, 2022

About the Author

Lana Kisner is a writer on the team with more than 15 years of experience in the food service industry.

In her free time, she enjoys traveling, exploring new restaurants, listening to live music, and hiking with her dog.