When McDonald’s Tried to Make Onion Nuggets Happen

Chung Sung-Jun, iStock via Getty Images
Chung Sung-Jun, iStock via Getty Images / Chung Sung-Jun, iStock via Getty Images

Not every McDonald's menu item has been as successful as the Big Mac or the Chicken McNugget. The chain has a long history of failures that include everything from fast-food pizza to spaghetti. While those dishes aren't missed by most customers, a cult following has developed around one short-lived offering from the late 1970s: the Onion Nugget.

According to Mashed, McDonald's served Onion Nuggets in select U.S. markets in 1978 and 1979. Younger customers may assume that the item was a riff on Chicken McNuggets; they were shaped like the nuggets McDonald's serves today, only instead of chicken, they consisted of a deep-fried onion mixture. But the Onion Nugget actually came first.

McDonald's first executive chef Rene Arend came up with the recipe to supplement the burgers and fries the chain was famous for at the time. He had previously cooked for Queen Elizabeth II and would later develop the fabled McRib. The Onion Nugget could have been another feather in his cap, but the side dish wasn't meant to be.

The Onion Nuggets were discontinued in the late 1970s when McDonald's chairman Fred Turner told Arend to redirect his focus on developing a chicken-based item instead. The chef took the breaded onion concept and applied it to chicken nuggets, which had been invented by agricultural scientist Robert C. Baker less than two decades earlier. The Chicken McNugget made its debut at McDonald's in the early 1980s, and it's been a staple of the menu ever since.

The Chicken McNugget is an undisputed hit, but nostalgic customers still dream of what could have been. Some fans have created webpages demanding the return of the Onion Nuggets, while others have tried making their own version of the greasy treat at home. McDonald's hasn't announced plans to revive the item, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. The company introduced veggie McNuggets in Norway in 2019, and earlier this year, onion rings (not nuggets) appeared on McDonald's menus in Australia.