What's in McDonald's Sprite, Exactly? Ingredients Revealed After Drink Gets Meme Treatment

In the form of various memes themed around McDonald's Sprite drink, several Twitter users have been pondering the mystery behind why the drink reportedly has a stronger taste/kick than other beverages.

User @planetbobby_ tweeted: "So she was making #McDonaldsSprite," along with a gif of Bette Midler's Hocus Pocus character stirring a potent concoction in her cauldron.

@mickisuzette added: "I haven't had any soda in years but I can remember the sensation of McDonald's Sprite like it was yesterday. Twitter trending #McDonaldsSprite has me craving that #HurtsSoGood burn now," with a gif of Gollum from the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

So she was making #McDonaldsSprite pic.twitter.com/4sc0H5f7dY

— Bobby Knight (@PLANETBOBBY_) October 27, 2021

I haven't had any soda in years but I can remember the sensation of McDonald's Sprite like it was yesterday. Twitter trending #McDonaldsSprite has me craving that #HurtsSoGood burn now. pic.twitter.com/OU0PT3mKci

— micki (@mickisuzette) October 27, 2021

When that McDonald's Sprite hits: pic.twitter.com/nQ0BVaf0uw

— Leon Langford (@MasonLLL) October 27, 2021

So what's in McDonald's Sprite exactly? Here we take a closer look at the drink's contents.

Ingredients of McDonald's Sprite

According to the McDonald's website, the "delicious lemon-lime fountain drink" contains the following ingredients.

A McDonald's drink container in France.
A McDonald's drink container served at a McDonald's venue in Lille, northern France, in February 2015. PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP via Getty Images

Carbonated Water

Carbonated water is usually the first ingredient listed in all carbonated drinks, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made from corn starch, and starch is a chain of glucose (a simple sugar) molecules, the FDA explains.

Corn syrup, which is essentially 100 percent glucose, results from breaking down corn starch into individual glucose molecules.

HFCS is made by adding enzymes to corn syrup to convert some of the glucose to another simple sugar called fructose (also known as "fruit sugar" because it occurs naturally in fruits and berries).

The FDA says: "The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that everyone limit consumption of all added sugars, including HFCS and sucrose. FDA participated in the development of the Dietary Guidelines and fully supports this recommendation."

Citric Acid

Used as a preservative, citric acid maintains the stability of active ingredients and acts as a food acidity regulator, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

'Natural flavors'

According to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), "the term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."

According to a 2017 article in the peer-reviewed Food and Drug Law Journal, the FDA has put "legally binding regulations" into effect for natural flavors, which were reported to be the fourth most common food ingredient listed on food labels, as of 2017.

The article explains: "In reality, 'natural flavors' are a far cry from what consumers might expect, as they can contain both artificial and synthetic chemicals (often used as processing aids)."

Since there is no formal legal definition for the term "natural," there has been "little opportunity to contest the naturalness of natural flavors in the past."

The article said the FDA has "initiated a notification of request for comments on use of the term Natural, so an attempt to promulgate regulations may be underway."

Sodium Benzoate

McDonald's notes that sodium benzoate is included "to protect taste." The drink's nutrition listing also says a small-sized Sprite has 65mg of sodium.

The fast food chain says: "The values represent the sodium derived from ingredients plus water. Sodium content of the water is based on the value listed for municipal water in the USDA National Nutrient Database. The actual amount of sodium may be higher or lower depending upon the sodium content of the water where the beverage is dispensed."

According to (NLM), sodium benzoate is used as an "antifungal preservative" in foods. It can also be used as a test for liver function.

The FDA says benzene (which is a carcinogen, a substance promoting the formation of cancer), may form at "very small levels" in some carbonated soft drinks that contain both benzoate salts and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).

The federal body says the "levels of benzene found in beverages to date do not pose a safety concern for consumers," but the FDA continues to test beverage samples for the presence of benzene.

Newsweek has contacted McDonald's, the FDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for comment.

A McDonald's sign in LA.
The sign for McDonald's drive in take-away restaurant and an American flag in the Silver Lake area of Los Angeles, California. Epics/Getty Images