Once upon a time we all used to eat chicken. Like … a lot of chicken. Fried chicken. Roasted chicken. Broiled chicken. All the chicken. In fact, broiler chicken (aka chicken raised exclusively for meat consumption) was the most consumed type of meat in the U.S. in 2020.
Chicken may indeed be a staple at your family table, but if you’re looking for a plant-based option you might be wondering, “what exactly is plant-based chicken”? And further still: are all meatless meats the same? We’re glad you asked. Let’s explore more about plant-based chicken, how it all began, and how it can amp up your family mealtime.
What the Heck Is Plant-Based Chicken? Isn’t That an Oxymoron?
Well … sort of.
By now you may have tried — or have at least heard about — companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods who essentially manufacture “plant meats” that resemble real meat (particularly beef) in taste, texture, and look. It's vegan meat for meat-eaters.
And then you have other companies, like Nowadays, that focus on making plant-based chicken out of plant materials.
While some vegan chicken (be it in the form of patties, tenders, strips, or nuggets) is being created in a lab, ours is crafted using delicious and simple plant-based ingredients in our test kitchen. (More on that in a moment.)
However they are made, vegan chicken and vegan meat companies are trying to give consumers an option to consume a little less meat without having to sacrifice that meat flavor and experience.
What’s in Plant Based Chicken?
Before we get into what’s in plant-based chicken, let’s talk a bit about what’s not. The simple truth is that most saturated fats come from animal products — and when not consumed responsibly, these fats can cause health issues like heart disease and high cholesterol. It’s also becoming more widely known that commercially farming animals is having more of a negative impact on the planet and sustainability than we might like.
Thankfully, there are many meatless alternatives to our favorite chicken products. But there is a range of ingredients and approaches to making them, particularly in terms of the protein source. . While some companies rely heavily on soy protein, others may use beans or pea protein. Some common ingredients you may find in plant-based chicken include:
- Vital wheat gluten
- Soy protein
- Pea protein
- Expeller pressed canola oil
- Wheat berries
- Natural flavors
- Potassium chloride (used for flavor and as a thickening agent)
- Lactic acid
- Magnesium chloride (used as a thickening agent)
- Calcium chloride (used as a thickening agent and texturizer)
- Guar and other gums (used as binders to hold the product together)
- Modified food starch (used as a thickening agent)
- Methylcellulose (used as a stabilizer)
- Spices like garlic, onion, paprika, turmeric, etc.
Not all plant-based chicken meat is created equal. Some have extra additives like food coloring, flavoring, titanium dioxide, and other not-so-simple ingredients. It’s important to read the labels when shopping online or at your local grocery store.
A Case for Sometimes Choosing Plant Protein Even If You’re Not Vegan
We know. You like meat. We do too. We grew up on it. Plant protein wasn’t exactly a thing when we were kids and if it were, we probably would have side-eyed it. Our plate wasn’t complete if there wasn’t a meat product taking up at least a third of it. And our “vegan” veggies were almost certainly doused in some kind of cheese or butter for extra yum factor.
But as adults, we’ve discovered the power of plants and how eating more animal-free foods is not only good for our bodies but also for the planet. Animal farming isn’t ideal for sustainability, at least not the way we’re currently doing it. We are certain there will be improvements and we look forward to them.
In the meantime, we’ve looked at the research and discovered the potential health benefits of going plant-based, at least some of the time. Turns out, there are a number of ways we can benefit from eating more plant-based foods more regularly:
- Eating more plants has a positive impact on climate change — farming chickens for meat uses 1.3 times more land, 3.6 times more water, and emits 10.2 times more CO2 than it does farming peas for plant-based meat
- It can help you maintain a healthy weight
- It has less saturated fat
- It can reduce the inflammation caused by saturated fats
- It can help protect against heart disease, stroke, and more
- Plant-based foods tend to have higher nutrient density
There are so many great reasons to incorporate more meat alternatives into your life, but it’s important to choose wisely.
So Many Brands: Choosing the Best Plant-Based Chicken for You
Once we learned about the benefits for both our health and the planet from eating a little less meat, we got really uncomfortable (because the truth sometimes is terribly inconvenient), and then we got really determined. As huge fans of chicken nuggets we realized we needed to do something drastic (pause for dramatic effect).
We put down our fists, strapped on our thinking caps, and declared:
We must do the impossible. We must make the world’s most delicious plant-based chicken nugget there ever was. When it comes to chicken alternatives, we want to be the best!
Did we succeed? To paraphrase Dr. Seuss’ “Oh The Places You’ll Go,” we did indeed — 98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.
(See? We told you it would be dramatic.)
Nowadays certainly isn’t the first company to attempt making the best vegan substitution for chicken nuggets. And we won’t be the last.
Here are some of the most popular meatless brands on the market:
- No Evil Foods
- Impossible Foods
- Beyond Meat
- Morningstar Farms
- Alpha Foods
- Dr. Praeger’s
- Daring Foods
That said, we do want to share how much we pride ourselves on a few key distinctions when it comes to making Nowadays meat-free chicken. Behold the power of peas:
- We use just 7 simple ingredients, such as organic peas
- We add absolutely no junk — no fillers, no binders, nothing artificial
- All ingredients are non-GMO
- They are soy-free
- There is no cholesterol
- You get 13 grams of protein per 85 gram serving
- There is just 3.5 grams of fat per serving, with no saturated fat
As for the flavor and texture of Nowadays nuggets? Let’s just say they’ve passed even the most discerning of taste testers. (Read: little kids without a filter. Seriously. If you want the truth, ask a 5-year-old for their opinion. Just wear sunglasses in case you need to hide your tears.)
But we’re only getting started. You can up the ante by dipping your nuggets in your favorite BBQ, teriyaki, or sweet and sour sauce. You can also check out all our plant-based chicken recipes for more fun ways to craft our nuggets into your meal.
And for all of you lunch-packing parents out there, you can pack up these nuggets and put them in your kids’ lunch — easy peasy! Perhaps most importantly, you can save yourself the worry of wondering if you’re feeding your children wholesome food.
With just a few simple ingredients (that you can actually pronounce), less fat, more protein, no saturated fat or cholesterol, and half of the sodium content of the leading chicken nuggets on the market, Nowadays soy-free nuggets are a superior choice.
Bonus: If you’re looking to take gluten out of your family’s diet, Nowadays will soon offer gluten-free nuggets (cue the confetti and cheering). Sign up here to receive updates on when they’ll be available.
Pretend Poultry With Real Flavor: It’s Time to Taste for Yourself
Even if you’re not ready to go whole hog (excuse the pun!) with plant-based chicken, adding more animal-free options to your regular mealtime routine doesn’t have to be a chore. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a trip to the grocery store. You can order Nowadays online today and enjoy free 2-day shipping.
Now when you lay your head down on the pillow tonight, you can rest assured knowing that when you choose plant protein, you are choosing a more sustainable, better option for you and your family. And that’s a good choice any day of the week.