Chicken nuggets make no sense to me: Ground up bird meat, commonly extruded into finger food the shape of a dinosaur. Behind that whimsical presentation is a miserable situation for the most widely abused animal in all of factory food and an environmental mess whose effects Manhattanites are now seeing at their front doors and basements. So plant-based chicken nuggets, like the new ones from Impossible, have an open invitation to interest me. I cooked a batch at home, on my terms, on the eve of their widespread rollout and I was impressed.
By that I mean I cooked them on a propane grill, which is definitely off-label. But if I had concerns about charred breading or dried out nuggets, I shouldn’t have worried: They couldn’t have turned out any better. I cooked some directly on the grill bars, some on foil, and some on the upper tray of the grill. All came out about the same, which is to say delicious: I expected a great modern plant meat experience but they went beyond that and nailed the chicken taste and texture so well I can believe Impossible’s claim that seven out of 10 people prefer them over chicken in blind taste tests.
Compared to megabrand Tyson chicken nuggets, Impossible’s largely soy and wheat based version is nutritionally superior except for being a bit higher in sodium and lower in protein. Price will vary widely by store but expect a substantial price premium compared to nuggets made from chickens. That’s still typical of all plant-based meats.
Impossible ‘chicken’ nuggets vs. Tyson chicken nuggets
|(Adjusted to a 95g serving of each product)||Impossible||Tyson|
The environmental lifecycle analysis of any food is hard to directly verify, but Impossible claims their plant-based nuggets require about half the land area and water as chicken while contributing a third less greenhouse gases.
I may think chicken nuggets are child’s food, but the sector isn’t child’s play: It did about $1.1 billion in US sales last year, up 18% over the year before, according to Nielsen IQ market research. Sometime around 2010 chicken surpassed beef as America’s favorite animal meat. And according to voices as august as the Wall Street Journal, we’re in a golden era of the product. Little kids like them, of course, but for today’s young adults they’re a nostalgia food.
Impossible Chicken nuggets launched in the summer of 2021 in a limited number of restaurants but as of Tuesday, they’ll be widely available in food service channels, meaning most restaurants will be able to get them. And by the end of 2021, Impossible expects they’ll be in about 10,000 grocery stores.
Distribution is a key hurdle and plant-based meats are enjoying the growth of a new sector but they may also soon have to focus on cost, health and environmental bona fides now that they’ve won over the most amenable shoppers and must appeal to a larger swath of meat eaters. Expanding successfully into categories like chicken nuggets is one way to make plant-based meats feel inevitable. The chicken nugget may appear small and culinarily trivial, but nuggets as good as Impossible’s can move us closer to a time when we’ll wonder why we ever ate any other kind.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.