A few years back the international nutrition conspiracy struck a powerful blow against the forces of eating, launching one of the most effective smear campaigns since cream cheese met bagels. The message was simple" Bread will kill you; eat tortillas instead.
It's a completely ridiculous idea that was immediately embraced by the people of the world, and the fast food providers had no choice but to fall in line. Chick-Fil-A started serving breakfast burritos. Wendy's stuffed whatever they could find into floppy flour disks. Taco Bell began looking for alternatives to traditional soft taco shells to distance themselves from the competition.
And McDonald's, the undisputed king of shit you should not eat? McDonald's created the Snack Wrap.
There is nothing quite as depressing as a McDonald's menu with the calories written on it.
I don't believe calories on the menu is a requirement in my home state of Georgia, or if it is they only do it inside the store, and why venture out from the relative safety of my car? In California, however, the numbers are there for all to see.
It's terrifying, really. My current diet allows me 1,800 calories a day. If I keep the sandwich conservative, that's a single super-sized McDonald's meal. That's a whole bunch of food for just one meal.
But at the end of the day during E3 2012 I would slip into McDonald's and order the one thing on the menu that doesn't make my heart skip a beat both literally and figuratively: the Snack Wrap. At a mere 250 calories per serving in grilled chicken form (with honey mustard or barbeque; ranch is a little more), I can eat three of these babies and still have room for ten pouches of Wal-Mart-brand fruit snacks. Go me.
What's there to develop? Take edible things, wrap them in a tortilla.
It's not actually quite that easy. Bread, real bread the sort used to create a sun, is a sponge with a tendency to suck up flavor density. In traditional sandwich construction cooks rely on that all-important quality to ensure that normally over-powering flavors are sufficiently muted when slipped between two slices of bread.
The tortilla does not possess the absorbency / dampening feature of actual bread, so whatever is placed within its cylindrical embrace must be carefully calculated to compensate. Too much flavor and texture in a wrap can be disastrous.
Here's a fun way to test this at home. Take two tablespoons of peanut butter, a tablespoon and a half of grape jelly, and slather them on a small tortilla. Carefully roll it into wrap form. Now toss it out the nearest window. That feeling of relief? Completely warranted.
What McDonald's snack scientists (and the lady at the drive-thru window) present as healthier alternatives is a mixed bag. Some, like the grilled honey mustard Snack Wrap, eat as if they were delicately balanced for taste, texture and overall enjoyment. Others, like the Angus mushroom and Swiss, seems to have been rolled up with no regards to aesthetics or edibility.
It is not sufficient to merely wrap; how you wrap is of tantamount importance. It's the difference between a highly portable food product worthy of the word "Snack" and a soaked paper wrapper filled with mildly flavorful refuse. I understand McDonald's employs workers that aren't exactly striving for perfection, but the complete lack of pride in the crafting of the four Snack Wraps I reviewed is disheartening.
Look kids, this is simplicity itself. Fold over the right side, pulling it back to contain the food in its own special compartment. Fold up the bottom quarter and roll. It the tortilla breaks or does not keep shape, you've got too much in your wrap.
Quite frankly this is insulting, McDonald's. You were presumptuous enough to use the term "Snack" as part of the name of this product. Adding "Wrap", at least in this case, is a lie. These are not wrapped. They are almost soft tacos. Get your people in line, Ronald.
Each of the four Snack Wraps reviewed here incorporate the titular edible container, it's really what's inside that counts. A wrap containing grilled chicken and BBQ sauce is a completely different eating experience than one containing what McDonald's passes off as premium Angus beef, just as both of those are different than a wrap filled with ground glass and cat feces. And one of the former even tastes better than the latter.
Let's take them one-by-one.
Grilled Chicken Chipotle BBQ
The grilled chicken Snack Wrap is the sweet spot of the line. It contains grilled processed chicken product, one of the few meat substances that doesn't immediately dry out in the vicinity of a McDonald's employee. Add lettuce, a little cheese and some sort of sauce, and you've got a relatively light snack that is as inoffensive as they come. The texture makes for as pleasing a bite as you're likely to get from mechanically rearranged chicken, and the lettuce makes it healthy.
Lettuce makes anything healthy.
As far as the sauce choices go, I'm a honey mustard man myself. The BBQ sauce McDonald's manufactures on the cheap is a bit too smoky, and there's an acrid aftertaste that lingers long after the snack is done. The ranch is just ranch.
Angus Mushroom and Swiss
The Angus Beef Council has successfully managed to convince the American people that meat from their cows is somehow better than meat from every other cow. That might have been the case before McDonald's got a hold of it.
What they do to these cows is a sin against bovinity. It's dry, hard-to-swallow, and I'm pretty sure there are artificial colors at play to ensure their customers can see a visible difference between normal shit-beef and more expensive shit-beef.
In the case of the Angus mushroom and Swiss Snack Wrap, McDonald's takes the desiccated husk of cow that's supposed to taste better and glues pieces of it together using vaguely-Swiss cheese sauce and canned mushrooms.
The end result of eating one of these could be easily achieved by staring at the picture until your eyes blur and the milky white gunk begins to move on its own. It confounds the senses and makes your mouth feel dirty.
Fried Chicken Honey Mustard
One would think the crispy chicken Snack Wrap would be exactly the same thing as the grilled chicken Snack wrap, only with a slightly different texture and more calories thanks to the oil trapped in the nooks of the breading.
Setting aside the fact that I am eating something with oil-retaining nooks, the taste of the honey mustard fried chicken Snack Wrap is completely different from the grilled version. This is because no matter how often a McDonald's location cleans its oil, it never quite loses that subtle hint of human despair.
This Snack Wrap tastes of clogged arteries, the sweat of overweight children, irresponsibility and just a hint of honey mustard. My local McDonald's is particularly bad about cycling oil, so there's a bitter tinge of laziness that lingers on the tongue.
All-in-all, not bad.
One all-beef-ish patty torn in half, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions in a tortilla non-bun; the Big Mac Snack Wrap doesn't lend itself well to jingles, which is likely why it's a limited time-only menu item, the special sort of item that McDonald's only rolls out long enough to catch on to what they are doing to themselves, and then takes them away long enough for that to be forgotten. It's a vicious cycle.
I've had many Big Mac Snack Wraps in the past, and the combination's main problem is the same one I mentioned earlier: Wraps do not absorb taste. So when an employee bathes the food components in a thick lather of Thousand Island dressing they are essentially making Thousand Island soup with meat, wilted lettuce and cheese (cheese verified). It's not as delicious as it sounds.
The Big Mac was not meant to be experienced this way. If you've got the hankering for McDonald's signature sandwich but find yourself debating the health merits of bun-versus-wrap, then perhaps it's not the food; it's you.
Bread will not kill you, but it is generally higher in calories than a soft tortilla wrap. We could explore the whole carbohydrates analysis, but it really just comes down to calories. Even at McDonald's, the den of dining despair, a wrap is still technically a healthier alternative to a full sandwich.
However, as we've learned today, bread is more than just a resting place for questionable meat and low-quality vegetables. Bread is an important factor in flavor control. Without bread our senses would be regularly overwhelmed by the pungent aromas of salad dressings masquerading as sauces.
In the case of the Big Mac and angus mushroom and Swiss Snack Wraps, the lack of bread is keenly felt. Tastes and textures that were better off hidden behind a doughy barrier are brought to the fore, and the fore is no place for such horrors. Even fried chicken, a food that is almost impossible to get wrong, runs afoul (afowl?) of this disastrous recipe with no bread to soak up the black oil at the heart of McDonald's industrial complex.
But the grilled chicken? It's almost delightful. It would be better if it were, say, real whole chicken, and some McDonald's employees do not show enough restraint when it comes to ladling on sauces, but in the right circumstances the low-ish calorie grilled chicken Snack Wrap truly sings.
I highly recommend beating it until it stops singing before eating.