It’s that time of year again (but it’s already almost over)! The green shake has appeared once more on the Golden Arches menu, and fast food lovers have rejoiced as their favorite McDonald’s product made its annual return. Second only to the McRib, the Shamrock Shake has one of the biggest cult followings in the chain’s history. The minty green shake is a seasonal staple, as its loyal fanbase savors the late-February through March period when this drink appears on the menu. Its limited availability is, of course, inherent to its appeal. We only get a month to enjoy the milkshake before it goes back into hibernation for the rest of the year.
Now that we’ve finally entered this blessed pre-St. Patrick’s Day season, we decided to take some time to celebrate this beloved beverage by exploring its secret history. Here’s everything you never knew about the Shamrock Shake.
It was originally lemon-lime flavored.
Yup, it’s hard to conceptualize now, but when the Shamrock Shake was first introduced in the 1970s, it wasn’t minty at all. Instead it was a combination of vanilla ice cream and lemon and lime sherbet. In 1973, they decided to remove the sherbet altogether and just dyed the vanilla ice cream green, but still no trace of mint. It wasn’t until a decade later, in 1983, when the pivotal flavor was added—a major game-changer that forever defined the mint Shamrock Shake we’ve come to love today. (And the McDonald’s website now lists the specific ingredients as “vanilla reduced fat ice cram, Shamrock Shake syrup, and whipped light cream.”)
It had its own mascot.
In 1975, Grimace got a visit from his uncle, the aptly named Uncle O’Grimacey! The character is a fluffy green version of, well, whatever the Grimace is. He would apparently take annual St. Patrick’s Day vacations to McDonaldland to visit his nephew where they would share Shamrock Shakes in furry, familial harmony. We have no idea what happened to Uncle O’Grimacey, but we have a feeling he’s busy partying in Ireland with the Lucky Charms leprechaun.
There wouldn’t be a Ronald McDonald House without it.
Okay, so here’s a fascinating story. When Philadelphia Eagles’ tight end Fred Hill’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, he was alarmed at how many parents of fellow cancer patients had to spend the night in the hospital (they couldn’t afford hotel rooms nearby after traveling long distances for treatment). Hill sought the help of teammates for a fundraising endeavor. The Eagles’ general manager at the time, Jim Murray, reached out to a friend in advertising who was working on a McDonald’s campaign and suggested a charitable partnership. At the time, there was a promotional push around the Shamrock Shake, and since green is the Eagles’ team color, it seemed like a great match. The company decided to donate a proceed of the profits from the green milkshake towards this initiative. Together they raised enough to buy a four-story house in Philadelphia, which became the first ever Ronald McDonald House. It officially opened on October 15, 1974 and the charity exists to this day.
A small 12-ounce serving has 63 grams of sugar.
Okay, so you probably already know these are unhealthy by virtue of it being a McDonald’s dessert product, however, did you know a small 12-ounce serving contains a whopping 63 grams of sugar, 460 calories, and 13 grams of fat? We’ll just ignore those nutrition facts while guzzling them down this St. Paddy’s Day.
You can make your own if you want to enjoy it in the off-season.
Part of its charm really is its ephemeral, seasonal nature, but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants—and wants it immediately. In this case, you can easily satisfy the craving any time of year.
There’s no shortage of copycat Shamrock Shake recipes out there, but this one is adamant that for a truly authentic flavor, you should use mint extract (not peppermint extract, as many other versions call for). There’s also vanilla ice cream, whole milk, and some green food coloring in the mix—plus whipped cream to top it off, of course. Get the Copycat McDonald’s Shamrock Shake recipe.
If you want to enjoy a dessert that doubles as a St. Patrick’s Day cocktail, try this boozy milkshake, which gets its cool flavor and mint green tint from creme de menthe, but also includes vodka and Irish cream liqueur for good measure. Sláinte! Get the Boozy Shamrock Shakes recipe.
With frozen coconut milk, fresh mint, matcha green tea powder, almond milk, maple syrup, and fresh spinach, this may be a far cry from the real Shamrock Shake, but it actually sounds (and looks) delicious—plus, you can feel pretty good about drinking it. Not only is it healthy, it’s naturally green! Get the Vegan Shamrock Shake with Matcha recipe.
Wawa is also getting into the game.
If you happen to live near a Wawa, you’re extra lucky, because you can get a Shamrock Shake equivalent there this year. But like the McDonald’s original, availability is fleeting—you only have until March 17 to get the Wawa ‘Good Luck Mint Smoothie,’ and March 24 to snag a Shamrock Shake at Mickey D’s.
This post was originally published on February 28, 2018 and was updated with additional images, links, and text on March 11, 2019.
Header image courtesy of Chowhound.