Impossible’s new vegan nuggets taste better than McNuggets. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean much

To be honest, I expected to be disgusted with the Impossible nugget. I’m a veggie burger agnostic who prefers the imperfect, robust texture of a handmade bean patty to a facsimile adjacent to beef, and I expected the plant-based chicken nugget to have the same weird properties, of meat but no meat like the vegan bleeding burger. I find the bleeding quite scary, like the statues of the Virgin Mary bleeding from their eyes.

So it was with some trepidation that I approached the mission to try the Nuggets ($ 12.99), which recently launched as a special at Gott’s Roadside restaurants in the Bay Area.

Served deep-fried, with a coating of stiff breadcrumbs and tiny cups of ranch, honey mustard and barbecue sauce, the nuggets looked like anything you might find in a French fries basket. Good fried breadcrumbs – liberally applied, craggy and baked to a fine bronze – can cover a multitude of sins. Each flat nugget measures approximately 1¼ inches, shaped with an eye towards the wabisabi-type imperfection. You want a little differentiation, lest the uniformity make objects look odd.

They sort of taste like chicken. There is no aftertaste and the texture is like a dish where a protein has been mixed into a smooth industrial paste and baked to order. It might not sound very appealing, but it’s almost indistinguishable from what food manufacturers do to make the nuggets animals are already dying for.

Close-up of a plant-based Impossible Foods nugget.

Soleil Ho / The Chronicle

The effect is achieved with a soy protein base, which is then bound to methylcellulose (usually found in ice cream) and modified food starch, and moistened with sunflower oil. The result mimics the soft, bouncy chew of a chicken patty. Turmeric and paprika add life to its appearance, while dried alliums and yeast, a vegan chef’s best friend, give it a meaty, umami character.

At the Gott’s Roadside of the San Francisco Ferry Terminal, I heard several tables enthusiastically talking about nuggets, which is not the kind of conversation I usually hear in this neighborhood, home to the biggest market in town producers. “Have you tried the Nuggets? People wondered, the words in all caps being somehow legible in the speech. Outside of that city, the product has also been launched in big box grocery stores and trendy places like Fuku in New York, NY and the newly opened State Street Market in Los Altos. It’s probably only a matter of time until, like the company’s beef burgers, nuggets start to creep into fast food restaurant menus as well.

Impossible Foods plant-based nugget dipped in barbecue sauce at Gott's Roadside in SF

Impossible Foods plant-based nugget dipped in barbecue sauce at Gott’s Roadside in SF

Soleil Ho / The Chronicle

For the sake of contrast, I visited a drive-thru at a McDonald’s in Emeryville to try the gold standard of fast food chicken nuggets, the 10 Piece McNuggets ($ 5.75). Rather than the crumbled exterior of Impossible Nuggets, the McDonald’s version has a delicate floured coating. Citric acid and lemon juice preserve the meat and slightly enhance the flavor. The meat itself is thick and sticky, the fibers are vaguely discernible if you try to pull it apart. The taste, however, was almost indistinguishable from the Impossible nugget – more bland, too.

I agree with you: I haven’t eaten McNugget for about 20 years, although at one point I ate a lot. Served from the ’80s, the McNugget has been a hit for the international fast food chain, which makes the product and ships it to franchises in frozen bags. Considered a child-friendly food, nuggets have become an integral part of the diet of the millennial American child. They had a built-in ‘fun’ bonus aspect that was easily grasped by McDonald’s and billion dollar grocery brands like Conagra: their ability to take the form of stars, bells and, in a touch of poetry. evolutionary, dinosaur.

Close-up of a McDonald's McNugget.

Close-up of a McDonald’s McNugget.

Soleil Ho / The Chronicle

My time with nuggets ended in 2001 when “Fast Food Nation” came out. The book, by investigative journalist Eric Schlosser, revealed the history and inner workings of America’s fast food giants in the same way Upton Sinclair’s socialist novel “The Jungle” blew up the food industry. conditioning of meat in 1906. In the smallest details, Schlosser described the public health disaster of the meat packaging industry, the economic impact of fast food on the working class, and the sophisticated methods by which processed foods like McNuggets and burgers are marketed to children.

While Schlosser does not advocate a meatless diet or a socialist re-imagining of society, his work has informed a generation raised by Ronald McDonald. At the very least, you couldn’t pretend to ignore fast food anymore. As a child myself at the time, I picked it up from a parent’s library, read it, and never ate another nugget, until this review. I could only eat one before the intrusive and brutal thoughts of the frantic meat-packing workers boning chickens at breakneck speed flooded my mind.

Yet in our post-“Fast Food Nation” world, nuggets have continued to proliferate. McDonald’s reported a 40% increase in sales this year after launching a collaboration with Korean boy group BTS, which included a 10-piece package of McNuggets and Chilean and Cajun-inspired sauces. . In grocery stores, nuggets breaded with whole wheat flour and made with free-range chicken meat are commonplace. On the social video platform TikTok, videos with the hashtag #Chicken nuggets have accumulated over a billion views. (Yes, there are some nugget influencers out there now.) The nugget can be with us forever.

Impossible Foods isn’t the first company to think about reinventing the nugget. Gardein and MorningStar Farms, two companies whose frozen vegan foods are found in many grocery stores, have been making nuggets from plant protein for years.

But the new class of nuggets is intended for imperceptible mimicry, with high-tech alterations developed through blind taste testing. Manhattan-based, venture-backed Simulate sells its futuristic nuggets and patties to health food retailers like Berkeley Bowl. The competition is fierce, with conglomerates like Tyson also in the game.

Yes meat packing and slaughterhouse practices are part of the problem with processed chicken, it makes sense to ask what it is like to work in the vegetable meat industry as well.

It’s not all vegan sun and rainbows: North Carolina plant-based meat company No Evil Foods recently thwarted an organizing campaign through what workers described on the information site Call like a hostile anti-union campaign. Several pro-union employees who openly demanded a pandemic risk premium and better security measures were sacked as the vote approached. If Tyson, who increasing the speed of slaughterhouse lines in its factories last year, makes plant-based nuggets, does that necessarily mean that the absence of chickens will make the company’s factories safer for workers?

For its part, Impossible Foods, which hopes to replace all animal agriculture by 2035, aims to amalgamate vegan meat with better working practices. In an interview with Forbes Last year, CEO Patrick Brown pledged his company would create “cleaner, safer and better paying jobs” for workers in the meat industry in a post-meat world. Impossible, however, is now in chains like Burger King with its imitation beef, and can’t control the conditions there; the problem of a broken fast food system remains.

But if we are only talking about the “meat” in the nuggets themselves, their mystique may end up being their strength. The Impossible Nugget works because, to be frank, no claim of authenticity can really apply when we’re talking about a dish we don’t even eat for its inherent chicken. If you eat a fast food nugget, you’ve already lost a lot of control over the ratio of real muscle to adipose and nerve tissue you prefer in your meal. You might as well avoid that box of worms altogether and eat something that tastes pretty much the same as the original, especially if you’re going to dip it in a barbecue sauce anyway.

Soleil Ho is the food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @hooleil

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