Plant-based burgers have officially made it. It’s been a little over a decade since the world was introduced to the Beyond Burger but in 2022 the idea of a plant-based burger appearing on fast food menus feels less like an experiment and more like common practice, with fake burgers slotting right alongside milkshakes and chicken sandwiches nationwide.
Plant-based chicken on the other hand? The jury’s still out on that one.
There is a reason for that, it’s not quite as easy to make a convincing chicken product. The texture of ground meat and sausages is easy to mimic (I say that simply as a person who loves food, not as an engineer who understands the science of mimicking meat), but whole meat products are another story. Burgers also have the benefit of layers of toppings that can help to mask the ways plant-based meat differs from the real thing — you have sauces, juicy tomatoes, lettuce, and cheese all competing for your attention. Fried chicken is a lot more… naked. Once you bite into it you have only the flavor of breading before you hit the texture of meat, and texture is the biggest hurdle plant-based meat brands face.
Leave it to KFC to attempt to figure it out. Over the past two years, KFC and Beyond Meat have been working on a plant-based chicken product that replicates the same familiar flavor we’ve all come to expect from KFC in a plant-based product that actually looks, tastes, and chews like real fried chicken. Over the years the two brands have attempted multiple test launches in select cities to great success, but now they’re finally at a point where they’re ready to bring the KFC Beyond Fried Chicken nationwide.
Beginning Monday, January 10th, KFC’s new Beyond Fried Chicken will be available at all KFC locations nationwide for a limited time. The chicken was created to mimic the taste and texture of whole muscle chicken, but how well does KFC deliver on that promise? We headed to an early tasting in Hollywood California to find out if KFC is about to drop a game-changer on the world or if this misses the mark.
KFC Beyond Fried Chicken
If you’re already a fan of the Beyond brand or other plant-based meat products, you’re probably scratching your head at what makes KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken any different, but as we mentioned, this was a project that took multiple years of research and development to pull off. The goal here was to create a product that didn’t just taste or look like chicken, but create something that actually pulled apart like real meat.
Many plant-based chicken products suffer from a chunky “put-together” quality that makes them come off as, well, artificial. I’m happy to report that the Beyond Fried chicken is the closest product to actual chicken that I’ve yet to experience. Once I bit through the nugget I marveled at the stringy layered texture that actually looked like a piece of white meat chicken. Now take that with a grain of salt — and a whole bunch of additives *wink wink* — because KFC isn’t giving us something that will replace a piece of their Original Recipe fried chicken, the Beyond Fried Chicken is essentially a chicken nugget. Having said that, it’s one of the best chicken nuggets currently on the fast food market, real or fake.
Not the best, but one of the best for sure.
The texture here is totally on point. Chewing through the nugg gives a bite that falls in line with the other top of the line chicken nuggets (think more Chick-fil-A than the McDonald’s McNugget) housed in a batter that tastes distinctively like the flavors you’ve come to expect from Kentucky Fried Chicken. Black pepper, salt, onion, and garlic powder, it’s all here, and you’re able to take multiple bites of each nugget without the breading detaching from the “meat” like a sleeve, which is a real unappetizing problem that other plant-based fried chicken products suffer from.
Once you dop this in one of KFC’s dipping sauces (I go KFC sauce every time), it’s essentially identical to chicken. I’m excited to try this in a blind taste test but won’t be at all surprised if it trips me up.
It’s worth mentioning that I had the benefit of eating these “chicken” nuggets piping hot and prepared fresh from a Beyond Food truck in the middle of a slow January afternoon. I realized that this won’t be everyone’s experience, so decided to give this chicken a timed test to see how it holds up to a 20-40 minute delivery or drive.
Sadly, once my nuggets cooled down a bit (exactly 20 minutes) they took on a density that wasn’t present when they were hot. I wouldn’t say that it tasted any less like actual chicken, but the denser more laborious chew I had to give each nugget was a dead giveaway that I was eating fake meat. That’s a problem that I think is remedied with a healthy dip of your favorite sauce, but you definitely don’t want to let these nuggets sit in a bag for very long if you want the best experience. It’s not a big enough issue that I think KFC and Beyond Meat need to head back to the lab, but it’s the next problem plant-based meat needs to solve if it truly wants to replace people’s preference for the real thing. (That said, real-life nuggets aren’t great when cold either — no fried fast food is.)
Finally, it should be mentioned that technically, because KFC fries its Beyond Fried Chicken in the same oil they use for their regular chicken pieces, the Beyond Fried Chicken isn’t prepared in a truly vegan/vegetarian manner. It won’t be a deal-breaker for everyone, but some people will definitely take issue with that. If this dish is a mega-hit — which it very well could be — I think they might just move to separate fryers for these (they could be fried in the same oil as fries, obvs).
The Bottom Line:
The closest any fast food brand has come to capturing the magic of fried chicken in plant-based form. The KFC Beyond Fried Chicken isn’t the best chicken nugget in the entire fast food universe, but it comes pretty damn close and competes from a flavor standpoint to other real chicken offerings out there. In fact, it beats many of them.