What's the McRib made of, anyway?

The Week

McDonalds' McRib inspires a cult-like obsession. Thankfully, though, it's only available for a limited time: If you knew about all the unpronounceable ingredients packed into it, you might think twice about wolfing down the sauce-drenched pork concoction. Think you can stomach what's inside? Read on.

How many ingredients are there?
At face value the sandwich consists of pork, onions, and pickle slices slathered in barbecue sauce and laid out on a bun. But the truth is, there are roughly 70 ingredients. UPDATE: Here's what the patty looks like before it's cooked. Yum!

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The bun alone contains 34 ingredients, says Meredith Melnick at TIME. In addition to chemicals like ammonium sulfate and polysorbate 80, the most egregious may be azodicarbonamide — "a flour-bleaching agent most commonly used in the manufactur[ing] of foamed plastics like gym mats and the soles of shoes." According to McDonald's own ingredient list, the bun also includes calcium sulfate and ethoxylated mono- and diglycerides, among other chemicals.

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So what's the meat made of?
Pig innards and plenty of salt. Typically, "restructured meat product" includes pig bits like tripe, heart, and scalded stomach, says Whet Moser at Chicago Magazine, citing a 1995 article by Robert Mandigo, a professor at the University of Nebraska. These parts are cooked and blended with salt and water to extract salt-soluble proteins, which act as a "glue" that helps bind the reshaped meat together.

Is it really that bad for you?
Well, it's certainly not great for you. Though "slightly trimmer than the Big Mac," which contains 540 calories and 29 grams of fat, says Christina Rexrode at USA Today, the McRib, first introduced in 1982, still packs in 500 calories and 26 grams of fat. And despite its name, one thing you won't find inside a McRib is bones. The absence of any detectable "rib" is what gives the unnutritious mush its "quirky sense of humor," says Marta Fearon, McDonald's U.S. marketing director.

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Sources: Chicago Magazine, McDonald's, TIME, USA Today

This article — originally published on October 28, 2011 — was updated on November 14, 2013.

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