The new Impossible chicken nuggets, reviewed


When it comes to replacing the beef patty in your bun with a more sustainable alternative, there’s nothing as freakishly meat-like as the burger made by Impossible Foods (as I confirmed in an epic, months-long taste test). Now the Silicon Valley food science company is taking aim at another American staple: the chicken nugget. You’ll be able to order Impossible nuggets at a small number of restaurants and buy them at major supermarkets later this month. Can fake fast-food lightning strike twice?

We have good reasons to hope so. Chicken farming isn’t nearly as bad for the environment as rearing cattle, but it isn’t great. Impossible says its nuggs use 49 percent less land, 44 percent less water and generate 36 percent fewer greenhouse gases than the bird-based version. They’re also healthier from a nutritional perspective, with 40 percent less saturated fat (the main caloric component of regular nuggets) and 25 percent less sodium. Switching nuggs could save the planet, and quite possibly your life.

Trouble is, the company is running straight into the most heated debate in fast food: What is a chicken nugget, anyway? There is no nugg council to enforce standards. Traditionalists point to the classic McDonald’s Chicken McNugget, or the Wendy’s nuggs that were the subject of the most-retweeted tweet in English ever. These consist of forcemeat (ground-up chicken paste, basically), breaded and fried. Recently, however, restaurants like Popeyes and Chick-fil-A started selling nuggets with regular chicken meat and a crunchier coating — category confusion that led one traditionalist LA Times food critic to insist that they were tenders, not nuggs.

Having devoured a couple of orders of the Impossible nuggets ahead of its official launch Tuesday, I can confirm that the company is taking aim at the traditional version. That’s probably for the best, even though I’m personally more of a Popeyes nugget fan. Chicken has a very specific texture that is hard to replicate; Impossible rival Beyond Meat quietly discontinued its disappointing chicken strips in 2019 (and is also rolling out nuggets this fall, though they’re currently only available in Canada).

The fake forcemeat in Impossible nuggets does a pretty good job of replicating the, uh, “real” thing. I did find it a little softer than regular nugg paste, but I can also see why Impossible’s blind taste test ended with 140 out of 200 testers preferring its product to what the company only describes as “the leading animal-based alternatives.” There’s a mild umami aftertaste that reminded me of the Impossible burger, but you’d certainly never guess that you were actually consuming sunflower oil, soybean oil, wheat flour and texturized soy. (That’s right, they’re vegan friendly but not gluten free.)

Vital statistics: Impossible’s chicken nugget packaging.
Credit: impossible foods

The problem with Impossible nuggets lies not in the fake meat, ironically, but the batter. Though it certainly looks the part, flecked with crystals of salt, the Impossible nugg coating has a relatively flat and uninspired texture. The day after testing, I did something I hadn’t done in years — went to a McDonalds just to see what was different about the classic McNugget, one of the fast food giant’s most popular items ever since it was introduced in 1981. It was clearly crunchier, and probably fried in more oil, than the Impossible version. Something about the air gap between its forcemeat and its batter made each McNugget a more satisfying experience.

But Impossible is nothing if not iterative. The company upgraded its flagship burger with all new ingredients in 2019, and CEO Pat Brown vowed to keep upgrading every year until we all quit beef. To my mind, he’s got a small but not insurmountable way to go before Impossible nuggets beat the traditionalist alternative; I fully expect that they will very soon.

In the meantime, you can try Impossible chicken nuggets at a variety of boutique restaurants offering it alongside their own dipping sauces; the best-known of the chains is probably Fatburger. But you’re more likely to run into these nuggs in the frozen sections of Walmart, Kroger, Albertsons, Safeway, ShopRite, Giant Stores and Gelsons.

The company expects Impossible nuggs to be available in a total of 10,000 stores by the end of the year, at the appealing price of $7.99 for a pack of 20. If you’ve gotta have your planet-saving nuggs, you could do a lot worse than to try these bad boys out.

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