Plant-based versions of chicken nuggets have been around for years, but the new magic aims to make these alternative meats more than just soy dressed in a cheap chicken suit. And Kentucky Fried Chicken, the Louisville-based fast-food chain known for its fried poultry, this week launched a new plant-based menu item with the bold claim that it would be as “finger-lickin’ good” as the food. real. .
Let’s start this review of whether it lives up to that billing on a somewhat pedantic note and consider the nomenclature of the newest faux chicken to land in the co-op. KFC deliberately (and strangely) doesn’t call these babies “nuggets.” The introductory press release dubbed them simply “Beyond Fried Chicken,” and the accompanying photo showed the non-nuggets in a paper bucket reminiscent of the receptacles that typically house the chain’s best offerings.
That choice seems strange to me, because, well, they look like nuggets, not just “fried chicken.” And the online menu I used to order them identified them as nuggets, even if their packaging didn’t.
So regardless of what the Colonel says, I call them nuggets, on the principle of ducks. But labels aside and coming to the most important question, what do they taste like?
Okay, okay, but appearances first: out of the box, they sure look like the real thing, albeit in a slightly squarer shape than I’m used to, with a nice, even, dark golden-brown coat sprinkled with black pepper. And at the first bite, I am convinced by this fool. The exterior is as crispy as its appearance promised, and the seasoning (there’s a fair amount of salt) hits all the fast-food neural grooves in my brain.
I don’t get a distinct chicken flavor, though even real nuggets don’t usually offer much on that front. I am of the opinion that the success of a nugget, whether meat or plant based, is largely based on the outside. Nail down a crisp, well-seasoned layer and you’ll be about 75% of the way to a reasonable bud. Dip the thing in sauce, and it could practically turn pages of the phone book as groceries.
The KFC nugget was much denser than many of the other plant-based nuggets I’ve tried, and when I pulled it apart, it actually looked ridged, like a piece of cooked chicken muscle. These soy-based chunks seem to aspire to be chicken fillets: actual pieces of fried meat, rather than mere nuggets, which are usually made up of ground meat that is pressed into a bite-sized piece.
In fact, I prefer this to the fluffier or doughier interiors of many fake (or even real) chicken nuggets, though not everyone can agree, and one woman’s deliciousness is another’s rubbery. KFC’s Beyond Meat version was compelling enough to make my husband take it twice. The afternoon she was tasting them, she rolled into the kitchen and took a nugget from the box. “Wait, is this the plant?” he asked, looking confused. (He had asked me to order him some real chicken strips.)
The new item also seems to be a hit, with many fans on social media.
However, some were put off by the fact that plant-based “chicken” might not be suitable for those following strictly vegan or vegetarian diets. The new menu item is prepared in the same fryers used for the actual chicken, a spokeswoman noted in response to my question about what an asterisk in the press release meant, though that process is not clear from the online menu that I used.
His complaint was reminiscent of the situation that led a group of Burger King customers to file a class-action lawsuit, which was ultimately dismissed, against the chain alleging that it failed to disclose that its Impossible Burger was cooked on the same grills as its meat offerings.
Another turn off could be the price. My 6-piece box of nuggets from a Washington location is $8.39, and for the same price, you can order a combo meal that includes KFC popcorn chicken nuggets, a drink, a side dish, and a cookie.
Still, it’s another option for people looking for more plant-based options at their local drive-thru and grocery stores. Impossible Foods, Beyond’s main rival, debuted its alternative nugget last year, which is showing up on the menus of some fast-casual chains and in the frozen aisle of major grocery stores. And Burger King just launched vegan nuggets in the UK.
This story was originally published January 14, 2022 6:00 a.m.