I tasted KFC's meatless fried 'chicken' dishes and even though they look like the real thing, they didn't taste like it

Business Insider US
One Atlanta-based KFC rolled out plant-based "chicken" dishes this week.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

  • On Tuesday, Kentucky Fried Chicken did the first test run of its new meatless "chicken" dishes in Atlanta, Georgia, in the USA.
  • KFC sold the Beyond Fried Chicken as nuggets and boneless wings, which came tossed in three different sauces.
  • I felt like the plant-based nuggets were a bit dry and even though they looked and smelled like actual chicken nuggets, they didn't taste like them.
  • I thought the meatless boneless wings were surprisingly tasty, but the sauces, especially Buffalo and Honey BBQ, were the real stars of the dish.
  • In my opinion, neither of the plant-based "chicken" dishes tasted like real chicken, but KFC's new offerings sold out in just a few hours and I have a feeling both of them could be here to stay.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

On Monday, Kentucky Fried Chicken announced its partnership with Beyond Meat to deliver new plant-based chicken options to its patrons.

But there's a catch - these new options have only been released in one Atlanta, Georgia in the USA location so far and KFC has not yet decided if it will release these meatless menu items in the rest of America, never mind roll it out to the likes of South Africa.

See also: KFC rolls out first plant-based fried 'chicken' with Beyond Meat – but we have no idea yet if it will come to South Africa

So, on Tuesday, I headed out to a special tasting event at KFC's newly renovated location to put these new plant-based "chicken" dishes to the test.

The special KFC location was decorated to celebrate its new plant-based options and the place was very crowded

The big tasting event happened at the Cobb-Parkway location in Atlanta, Georgia, and the entire building got a bright-green makeover to celebrate its new plant-based dishes.

Upon arrival, it became clear that I was not the only person looking to see what the iconic chain had to offer. Lines of cars and people were wrapped around the building and the parking lot.

There were long lines and a backed-up drive-thru.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

Clearly, this limited-edition tasting opportunity was a big deal.

I later learned that the plant-based chicken sold out in under five hours. A representative for KFC told Insider that the amount of Beyond Fried Chicken it sold in five hours is the same amount of popcorn chicken the chain would normally sell in a week.

The taste-testing menu included plant-based 'chicken' nuggets and boneless 'chicken' wings

I got both plant-based nuggets and plant-based wings to taste.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

The taste-test menu gave plant-based fans a chance to try its nuggets and boneless "chicken" wings in a few ways.

For the nuggets, you could purchase them in a six-piece or 12-piece combo meal that included a side and medium drink. These were priced at $6.49 (R100) and $8.49 (R130), respectively. You could also buy just four nuggets for a surprisingly low $1.99 (R30).

The boneless wings had no combo options available and cost $1 (R15) per wing, with the six-piece retailing for $6 and the 12-piece costing $12.

Notably, per a KFC representative, these menu items aren't technically suitable for everyone who follows a vegan or vegetarian diet, since they share fryers with actual chicken.

At first glance, the plant-based nuggets looked and smelled like the real thing

Based on their appearance, I couldn't tell these nuggets weren't made of meat.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

As a true southerner, fried chicken is perhaps one of my favourite dishes of all time and although I don't eat much of it from fast-food restaurants, I was extremely intrigued to try KFC's new plant-based venture.

I was also excited that when the meatless nuggets arrived they looked just like a regular order of chicken nuggets that you'd get from any fast-food restaurant.

This Beyond Fried Chicken offering even smelled like actual chicken nuggets. Plus, the inside of the nugget even looked like real white-meat chicken.

This isn't real chicken.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

Based on smell and appearance alone, I feel like most consumers, including myself, wouldn't even know these nuggets weren't made out of meat.

Unfortunately, the appearance was more impressive than the taste - I felt like the plant-based nuggets were kind of mediocre

The breading tasted like that of a typical chicken-nugget.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

These sure looked like meat-based chicken nuggets, but there was a big difference in terms of taste.

Yes, the breading on the outside, which I feel is what probably what makes or breaks a chicken nugget, looked and tasted pretty much identical to that of a regular nugget. It was pretty tasty.

But, the plant-based "meat" was not up to my standards. I thought the nugget wasn't as moist as the regular chicken that you would get from KFC, but it wasn't exactly dry either. It was just kind of ... there.

I wasn't impressed by the Beyond Chicken.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

I tried two bites without the dipping sauces and one bite with and to be quite honest, even KFC's flavourful condiments didn't make me want to finish these nuggets. I wasn't a huge fan.

Surprisingly, the boneless wings were quite tasty, even though they were pretty similar to the nuggets

Frankly, if these were not labeled as "boneless wings" on KFC menus, I would have assumed these were just saucy nuggets since they look just like the dish I just tried. As you can imagine, considering I didn't love the nuggets, I was quite skeptical about trying these.

These wings come tossed in one of three sauces options, from most to least spicy: Nashville Hot, Buffalo, and Honey BBQ. I was able to taste two of each flavour.

The boneless wings looked like nuggets to me.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

I was expecting the Nashville-Hot flavour to be my absolute favourite since I love spicy food, but it was actually the Buffalo and Honey BBQ flavours that I really enjoyed.

Simply, the Nashville-Hot flavour didn't live up to its name. It was tasty enough, but I didn't think it was spicy at all. That said, I really feel like the two remaining flavours are where KFC could have something special.

The Honey BBQ flavor was my personal favorite.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

The Buffalo flavour almost resembled real boneless chicken wings and they took me back to those late college nights when my friends and I would split platters of them.

The Honey BBQ flavour, which was my favourite of the pickings, was also really tasty and was a pretty solid combination of sweet and savoury to please the palate.

I feel like the sauces were really the star of this dish and they helped camouflage that I was eating plant-based "chicken" instead of the real deal.

Overall, I could definitely tell I wasn't eating chicken - but I think these options were a great start for KFC's venture into the plant-based world

I walked away from this not exactly disappointed, but not overly impressed.
Ni'Kesia Pannell

In a press release, KFC's president and chief concept officer Kevin Hochman said "KFC Beyond Fried Chicken is so delicious, our customers will find it difficult to tell that it's plant-based" - I wouldn't exactly agree.

I could definitely taste the difference between KFC's plant-based "chicken" and real chicken, but I will say that KFC and Beyond Meat have done their due diligence with this attempt to penetrate the plant-based market.

Sure, I didn't love every option I tasted, but even as a meat-eater, I would probably buy these boneless Beyond Fried Chicken wings if they ever came in a more budget-friendly combo meal. I'll pass on the nuggets, though.

And while other fast-food chains battle it out to see who has the best chicken sandwich, I think it's safe to say after seeing the long lines and sold-out taste test, KFC just may have the upper hand with its plant-based "chicken" approach.

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