KFC is the latest fast-food giant to claim that “plant-based” chicken can
taste as good as the real thing — but the chain picked the wrong faux fowl
to make its case.
The chain’s supposedly long-awaited Beyond Nuggets (six for $7.99) are
beyond awful — worse than KFC’s near-flavorless real-meat chicken tenders.
The fake chicken from within KFC’s new offerings come 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 bogus bird would not fool a 7-month-old experiencing solid food
for the first time.
I wanted to taste the thing separate from the hype — and from the oily,
over-seasoned, “eleven-spiced” breading that scorched my tongue like a
blowtorch. After some work, I managed to extract the miserly, vegan morsel
that seemed glued inside its nugget. Once freed, the spongy, solid matter
did not taste remotely 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 for
decades has been a go-to among vegetarians as a meat substitute.
Which is to say: It tasted like nothing.
Yes, there was mouth feel — the salty, crisp-and-mush blur that’s soothing
when you’re the last customer in the bar at 2 a.m. But the ersatz nuggets
aren’t anything you’d want to consume sober or in daylight.
Not even vegetarian
And they’re not actually vegetarian. Yes, they are made from a laboratory
compound of “pea fiber,” flour, wheat gluten, yeast and other plant-based,
mouth-watering substances, but they are fried in the same oil that the
fast food chain uses for real chicken.
This flavorless fowl isn’t going to save the world, nor will it make you
Although the Beyond bites boast of having 40% less saturated fat than
actual chicken nuggets, any direct benefits from this down the road would
likely be negligible. “In terms of nutrition, it won’t make much
difference,” said Consumer Reports nutritionist Amy Keating in the
magazine’s recent review of Beyond Nuggets. And, health seemed to be
optional in general at the eat-in KFC at 408 Eighth Ave., where they
didn’t ask for vaccination proof on either of my two visits.
Beyond Meat hopes to exploit a mini-boom in plant-based “meats,” a market
that’s risen to $1.4 billion in the US and might double in five years. It
still represents a minuscule portion of the near-$200 billion US real-meat
market, which is projected to hit $215 billion by 2028.
A better option
David Chang’s much smaller Fuku chain lent the shtick 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 spin on Impossible nuggets to his Red Rooster menu.
For my money, Fuku’s Nuggies definitely beat KFC’s — but it’s a relative
The square, greaseless nuggets packed a pleasing crackle. The breading’s
light and crisp, the spices restrained. The imposter Impossible “chicken”
has a real-meat texture and almost tastes like it.
But it’s still less convincing than Impossible Burger “beef” — maybe
because it doesn’t use heme, the lab-generated protein that gives the
burger its beef-like aroma, texture and “bleed.”
There’s hope for the Nuggies. After all, Impossible enormously improved
its beef-less burger after a widely ridiculed 2016 rollout.
There’s no hope, though, for KFC’s Beyond Chicken. It should go back to
the lab — for good.