We tried 11 plant-based chicken nuggets to find the tastiest contender

We tried 11 plant-based chicken nuggets to find the tastiest contender

Which plant-based nuggets should you buy? We tasted Impossible, Incogmeato, and more.

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Stack of plant-based "chicken" nuggets with a green forest background
Graphic: Karl Gustafson

Plant-based meat exists to be a dead ringer for meat products, right? So in theory, a plant-based chicken nugget should taste just like chicken. And we wanted to see which of the leading meatless nugget brands tasted best.

The funny thing is, nuggets aren’t a whole lot like chicken in its natural state. Nugget meat doesn’t shred like chicken breast does, nor does it share any commonalities with ground chicken, which would impart a texture more akin to a burger or sausage patty. Nugget innards are essentially a molded meat paste enriched with a seasoned broth that moistens the meat and makes it taste like poultry. So when plants are processed beyond all recognition, the result isn’t all that different from meat that’s been processed beyond all recognition.

Even when they fall short of being perfect clones, most plant-based nuggets are as good, if not better, than their chicken-based counterparts. As the vegetarian stuff becomes a better and better doppelgänger, there is less reason than ever for chickens to be involved at all.

Which plant-based chicken nuggets are best?

To determine the best nuggets on the market, I prepared eleven different brands of plant-based “chicken” nuggets by cooking them in an air fryer, then sampled each one in a blind taste test. They were first tasted plain, after which I tried them with a variety of dipping sauces:

What follows is an overview of 11 different products, including tasting notes, price, and ingredients. Hopefully it helps you find the chick’n of your dreams.

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Quorn

Quorn

Quorn Meatless Nuggets
Photo: Quorn

Quorn, even more than most of the nuggets on this list, is a near perfect poultry doppelganger. For one thing, it’s not made from plant-based protein, and for another, Quorn has been perfecting its “chicken” for over 50 years.

Quorn ChiQin is made from mycoproteins, which are extracted from the stringy, root-like parts of common funguses (like mushrooms) which grow underground. These magical mycoproteins were discovered in the mid-’60s by British movie mogul/flour baron J. Arthur Rank, who challenged his company’s scientists to find a new use for his extra wheat. The game-changing fungus, Fusarium Venenatum, was discovered in a compost heap; when spores were mixed with wheat and allowed to do their thing in fermenters, they created an edible, protein-packed, and relatively flavorless “meat.”

Quorn’s mycoprotein miracle was approved for sale in 1985, and since then it’s mostly been a niche product well-known in the health food community. But now that the general public has developed a ravenous appetite for faux meat, it is finally time for Quorn to emerge from the shadows and blow us away with a cruelty-free “chicken” that puts all others to shame.

Every Quorn product I’ve tasted—including the nuggets, of course—has been outstanding, and so uncanny that when I served Quorn’s breaded nuggets, cutlets, and wings to my kids, they fully believed they were chicken. If you’re getting serious about going vegetarian but worry that your love of fried chicken products will doom you to failure, Quorn’s got you covered.

Score: 11/10

Average retail price: $4.99

Ingredients: Wheat Flour, Mycoprotein (34%), Water, Egg White, Wheat Starch, Canola Oil, Contains 2% Or Less Of Milk Proteins, Sugar, Textured Wheat Protein (Wheat Protein, Wheat Flour), Sage, Potato Dextrin, Onion Powder, Yeast Extract, Guar Gum, Wheat Gluten, Pectin, Salt, Calcium Chloride, Modified Corn Starch, Calcium Acetate, Pea Fiber, Yeast, Dextrose, Pepper, Turbinado Sugar.

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Fry Family Food Chick’n Nuggets

Fry Family Food Chick’n Nuggets

Image for article titled We tried 11 plant-based chicken nuggets to find the tastiest contender
Photo: Fry’s Family Foods

Fry Family Food is a South African company that is just beginning to enter the U.S. market. So if these aren’t yet sold at your local supermarket, you should try tracking them down online—because Fry’s Plant-Based Chick’n Nuggets are some of the best nuggets that I have ever tasted, vegetarian or otherwise. Tyson could learn a thing or two from Fry’s formula: the crust was audibly crunchy, buttery rich, and a perfect balance of crispy and crumbly. The interior was nearly indistinguishable from real chicken: succulent, salty, and almost a shame to sauce.

  • Score: 9.5/10
  • Average retail price: $4.99

Ingredients: Crumb: Wheat Flour, Yeast, Improving Agent (Vitamin C), Sunflower Oil. Nugget: Vegetable Protein (11%) (Soy, Wheat), Wheat Flour, Flavourings, Maize Starch, Yeast Extract, Plant Fiber, Thickener (Methyl Cellulose), Salt, Rosemary, Marjoram, Sage, Mustard Seeds, Anti-caking Agent (E551), Garlic.

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Impossible Nuggets

Impossible Nuggets

Impossible Chicken Nuggets
Photo: Impossible Meats

When we reviewed Impossible’s new chicken nuggets earlier this year, we praised their texture as “juicy and tender, yet so grease-free that there’s no residue at all left on your fingers after eating.” It turns out that the at-home version is just as good as the restaurant variety. After my fourth or fifth nugget, I was able to put my (residue-free) finger on what that textural perfection reminded me of: Impossible has made a plant-based carbon-copy of Weaver Chicken Nuggets, the beloved unofficial nugget of latchkey kids everywhere.

  • Score : 9/10
  • Average retail price: $6.48

Ingredients: Water, Wheat Flour, Soy Protein Concentrate, Soybean Oil, Sunflower Oil, 2% or less Of: Potato Starch, Methylcellulose, Salt, Natural Flavors, Cultured Dextrose, Wheat Gluten, Yeast Extract, Yellow Corn Flour, Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Sugar, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Spices, Leavening (Cream of Tartar, Sodium Bicarbonate), Dried Yeast, Paprika Extract (for color), Mixed Tocopherols (Antioxidant) Vitamins and Minerals: (Zinc Gluconate, Niacin (Vitamin B3), Calcium Pantothenate (Vitamin B5), Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12).

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SIMULATE Nuggs

SIMULATE Nuggs

Nuggs Plant Based Chicken Nuggets
Photo: SIMULATE Foods

Nuggs taste a whole lot like Impossible and Weaver chicken nuggets, which is good news for everyone involved. I fed these to my kids, who had no idea they were plant-based; they devoured them all in minutes, which is high praise for any nugget, no matter what it’s made of.

  • Score: 9/10
  • Average retail price: $4.99

Ingredients: Water, soybean oil, textured wheat protein, soy protein concentreat, breadcrumbs (wheat flour, sugar, rice flour, yeast, salt, extractives of paprika), wheat flour, corn flour, wheat protein isolate, yeast extract, contains 2% or less of: modified food starch, corn starch, tapioca dextrin, sunflower oil, potato starch, onion powder, garlic powder, methylcellulose, sea salt, sodium acid pyrophosphate, baking soda, calcium chloride, black pepper, red pepper, paprika, dextrose, natural vegan flavors

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Incogmeato Chik’n Nuggets

Incogmeato Chik’n Nuggets

Image for article titled We tried 11 plant-based chicken nuggets to find the tastiest contender
Photo: Morningstar

Incogmeato’s Chik’n Nuggets seem to be trying to cover up any meatless shortcomings by overcompensating on the exterior. The breading has a rigidity reminiscent of mozzarella sticks. While that’s a fine textural contrast to molten cheese, it’s a little too stiff for plant-based chicken. The interior protein, meanwhile, is too bland and requires dipping sauce to taste like much of anything. On the plus side, the too-thick coating makes this the most structurally sound nugget of any we tasted. So where it fails as a nugget, it succeeds as a canape! Try piling it with toppings like roasted tomatoes or bits of cheese.

  • Score, plain: 6/10
  • Score, with sauces/toppings: 7.5/10 
  • Average retail price: $5.49

Ingredients: Water, wheat flour, soy protein concentrate, vegetable oil (corn, canola and/or sunflower), soy protein isolate.Contains 2% or less of wheat gluten, yellow corn flour, methylcellulose, potato starch, cornstarch, yeast extract, sugar, wheat starch, salt, natural flavors, spices, dextrose, onion powder, color added, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), potassium chloride, yeast, paprika (color), garlic powder, paprika extract color, sodium gluconate, citric acid, xanthan gum.

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Jack & Annie’s Crispy Jack Nuggets

Jack & Annie’s Crispy Jack Nuggets

Jack & Annie's Jackfruit Plant-Based Nuggets
Photo: Jack & Annie’s

Unlike the all the leading soy- and wheat-protein nuggets on the market, Jack & Annie’s makes its product from a base of jackfruit. Knowing that, it didn’t bother me all that much that the inside of these nuggets bore almost no resemblance to chicken. What did bother me was the shape of the nuggets, which were firmly molded to include sharp, unnatural angles. Perhaps it’s to make them seem more “authentic,” but they’d be better if they were more rounded.

Moving from texture to taste, Jack & Annies has gone overboard with the black pepper in these nuggets, and they really do need dipping sauce to be enjoyable.

But those are the shortcomings of the classic variety of Jack & Annie’s Crispy Jack Nuggets. The Buffalo flavor offered by this company is spectacular. Go with that one instead.

  • Score, Classic: 7/10
  • Score, Buffalo: 9/10
  • Average retail price: $4.99

INGREDIENTS: Jackfruit, water, wheat flour, soy flour, canola and soybean oil, less than 2% of: methylcellulose (plant fiber), natural flavor, sugar, salt, spices, garlic powder, onion powder, oleoresin (paprika, turmeric), baking soda, yeast extract.

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Daring Original Breaded Pieces

Daring Original Breaded Pieces

Daring Breaded Plant Based Vegan Chicken Nuggets
Photo: Daring

For a processed food, the plant-based chicken from Daring doesn’t taste processed enough to qualify as a nugget. If anything, it qualifies as plant-based popcorn chicken, with an interior that shreds and pulls like overcooked breast meat. The exterior is well seasoned, but too dry and crumbly to be eaten without sauce. Ultimately this is a bad nugget, but for a great reason: Daring’s original “chicken” is so good at acting like chicken, it simply doesn’t need breading to hide any sins.

  • Score: 6/10 
  • Score for non-breaded chicken pieces: 8.5/10
  • Average retail price: $6.99

Ingredients: Water, Soy Protein-Concentrate, Sunflower Oil, Salt, Natural Flavor, Spices (Paprika, Pepper, Ginger, Nutmeg, Mace, Cardamon), wheat flour, canola oil, water, yellow corn flour, potato starch, rice flour, salt, leavening (cream of tartar, sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate), sugar, dextrose, garlic, onion, yeast.

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Raised & Rooted Plant Based Nuggets!

Raised & Rooted Plant Based Nuggets!

Raised and Rooted Plant Based Chicken Nuggets
Photo: Raised and Rooted

Most frozen supermarket chicken nuggets employ a breadcrumb coating, but Raised & Rooted dunks its nuggs in a light, crispy batter just like a McDonald’s Chicken McNugget, the G.O.A.T. This product nails the exterior, but the interior falls far short of emulating greatness, with “chicken” that’s a little too springy to create a convincing illusion. Still, it tastes good, and I’m sure I would have liked them much more had I not had authentic McNuggets on the brain. Once you start thinking about the King of the Nuggets, it’s hard to be objective.

  • Score: 8/10
  • Average retail price: $4.99

Ingredients: Season plant protein portion: vegan fibers (water, pea protein isolate, canola oil, sodium alginate, citrus fiber, calcium chloride), water, oat fiber, vital wheat gluten, pea protein concentrate, seasoning [maltodextrin (from corn), salt, natural flavor, yeast extract, palm oil, carrot fiber, citric acid, mdedium chain triglycerides, onion powder, torula yeast, onion juice concentrate, spice, canola oil]’ flaxseed, methylcellulose, salt, natural flavoring (sunflower oil and rosemary extract). Breaded with: Water, wheat flour, yellow cornflour, food starch, salt, leavening (sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate), spices, natural flavor. Breading set in vegetable oil (including soybean oil).

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Like Chick’n Nuggets

Like Chick’n Nuggets

Like Plant Based Chick'N Nuggets
Photo: Like Meat

These are some damn beautiful nuggets, with a nice crispy coating that’s never too dry or crumbly. The plant-based meat is of the spongy sort, which, when done poorly, is gross. Like Meat manages to do it well, though; these nuggets are sturdy with a nice amount of spring, and though they won’t fool you into believing they’re chicken, they’re enjoyable in their own right. Eaten plain, Like Chick’n Nuggets had a mysterious aftertaste that wasn’t terrible, but in the context of nuggets, it was noticeably out of place. Dipping sauce solves this problem entirely, so you should always dip these bad boys in something delicious.

  • Score, plain: 5.5/10
  • Score, with dipping sauce: 8.5/10
  • Average retail price: $5.99

Ingredients: Water, breading (cornflakes (corn, salt, sugar), water, corn flour, corn starch, potato starch, xanthan gum, soy protein concentrate, sunflower oil, oat hust fiber, salt, methyl cellulose, natural flavors, dextrose

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Gardien Ultimate Plant-Based Chick’n Nuggets

Gardien Ultimate Plant-Based Chick’n Nuggets

Bag of Gardein Plant Based Chicken Nuggets
Photo: Gardein

The bad news: Gardien Ultimate Plant-Based Chick’n Nuggets do not have the texture of a top-tier chicken nugget. The good news: they do have the texture of a medium-to-low-tier nugget, and seeing as nuggets are a comfort food, the nuggets could very well be exactly what you’re looking for. The coating is fine, but the “meat” has a firm bounce like a pencil eraser, or pureed chicken that’s been mixed with a generous amount of cornstarch. If you ever find yourself nostalgic for the taste of off-brand dinosaur nuggets, these would fit the bill perfectly.

  • Score: 5/10
  • Score, weighted for nostalgia, 8/10
  • Average retail price: $7.49

Ingredients: Water, Enriched Wheat Flour (wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Pea Protein Concentrate, Vital Wheat Gluten, Canola Oil, 2% Or Less Of: Methylcellulose, Salt, Ancient Grain Flour (khorasan Wheat), Sunflower Oil, Sugar, Potato Starch, Natural Flavor, Titanium Dioxide (color), Yeast, Color Extractives (turmeric, Paprika, Annatto), Ascorbic Acid, Yeast Extract, Leavening (sodium Bicarbonate, Cream Of Tartar), Soy Sauce (water, Soybeans, Wheat, Salt).

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Alpha Plant-Based Nuggets (Original Chik’n)

Alpha Plant-Based Nuggets (Original Chik’n)

Bag of Alpha Foods Plant-Based Original Chick'n Nuggets
Photo: Alpha Foods

Alpha’s Original Chick’n Nuggets don’t come off 100% as “real” chicken nuggets, but dare I say that they’re better? These are thick and meaty, super firm, but not springy. The “meat” has a fine shred without an iota of sponginess, though without dipping sauce, they’re a tad too dry. I’m fine with forgiving that slight imperfection, because when the nuggets and sauce join forces, they soar to new heights; the flavor and structural fortitude of Alpha’s nuggets mean they cannot possibly be drowned out by a flavorful condiment, and the sauce has a perfect complementary vehicle. Everyone’s a winner!

  • Score: 8.5/10
  • Average retail price: $6.49

Ingredients: Chik’n (water, soy protein concentrate, canola oil, textured wheat protein [wheat gluten, wheat starch, Vitamin E], Chik’n seasoning [tapioca maltodextrin, salt, gum arabic, natural vegan flavors, grill flavor, citric acid], methylcellulose, yeast extract, natural vegan flavor), Vegan Breading (wheat flour, cane sugar, yeast, expeller pressed sunflower oil, sea salt), Vegan Batter (wheat flour, wheat gluten, corn starch, garlic powder, onion powder, leavening [sodium acid pyrophosphate, sodium bicarbonate], salt, sunflower oil)

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