KFC is the latest fast-food giant to claim “plant-based” chicken can taste just as good as the real thing, but the chain picked the wrong fake birds to make its case.
The chain’s supposedly long-awaited Beyond Nuggets (six for $7.99) are beyond awful, worse than KFC’s nearly tasteless real-meat chicken tenders.
The fake chicken in KFC’s new offerings comes from Beyond Meat, a rival to Impossible Foods, which created the famous Impossible Burger. The idea behind offering artificial chicken at KFC is to “democratize plant-based protein,” according to Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown.
But this fake bird wouldn’t fool a 7-month-old experiencing solid food for the first time.
I wanted to try the thing apart from the hype, and the oily, overly seasoned, “eleven-spice” breading that burned my tongue like a blowtorch. After a bit of work, I managed to extract the measly vegan morsel that seemed to be stuck inside his nugget. Once released, the solid, fluffy stuff didn’t even remotely taste like real chicken, much of which doesn’t actually taste like chicken these days, thanks to factory farming and antibiotics.
It also didn’t taste like something experts have spent two years developing. It tasted like seitan, the wheat-based gluten bomb that has been an option among vegetarians as a meat substitute for decades.
Which means: it tasted like nothing.
Yes, there was a mouthfeel: the salty, crunchy, porridge-like blur that’s soothing when you’re the last customer at the bar at 2am. But ersatz nuggets aren’t something you want to consume sober or in daylight.
not even vegetarian
And they’re not really vegetarian. Yes, they’re made from a lab-grown compound of “pea fiber,” flour, wheat gluten, yeast, and other delicious plant-based substances, but they’re fried in the same oil the fast-food chain uses for real chicken. .
This tasteless bird is not going to save the world, nor will it make you live longer.
Although Beyond Bites boast 40% less saturated fat than actual chicken nuggets, any direct future benefit from this is likely to be negligible. “In terms of nutrition, it’s not going to make much of a difference,” Amy Keating, a nutritionist for Consumer Reports, said in the magazine’s recent Beyond Nuggets review. And, health seemed to be optional in general at the KFC restaurant at 408 Eighth Ave., where I was not asked for proof of vaccination on either of my two visits.
Beyond Meat hopes to exploit a mini-boom in plant-based “meats,” a market that has grown to $1.4 billion in the US and could double in five years. It still represents a minuscule slice of the nearly $200 billion US real meat market, which is projected to reach $215 billion by 2028.
a better choice
David Chang’s much smaller chain Fuku gave the gimmick a modicum of respectability when it launched Impossible Nuggies ($8.09 for eight nuggets), made by Impossible Foods, in September. Marcus Samuelsson even briefly added his own twist on impossible nuggets to his Red Rooster menu.
For my money, Fuku’s Nuggies definitely beat KFC’s, but that’s relative.
The square, fat-free nuggets had a nice crunch. The breading is light and crisp, the spices sober. The Impossible imposter “chicken” has a texture of real meat and almost tastes like it.
But it’s still less convincing than Impossible Burger’s “beef,” perhaps because it doesn’t use heme, the lab-generated protein that gives the burger its beef-like aroma, texture, and “bleed.” beef.
There is hope for the Nuggies. After all, Impossible vastly improved its meatless burger after a widely derided launch in 2016.
However, there is no hope for KFC’s Beyond Chicken. I should go back to the lab, forever.