First it was burgers, now it’s on to chicken.
Two fast food chains — KFC and A&W — announced this week that plant-based fried chicken options are coming to their Canadian stores.
KFC will have a one-day test run this Wednesday of its new plant-based chicken-sandwich alternative and its plant-based popcorn-chicken alternative at its Mississauga location at 6055 Creditview Rd., starting at 10:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. or the product is sold out.
On Dec. 2, A&W will start selling plant-based “chicken” nuggets at its Ontario and B.C. locations.
On Monday, both KFC and A&W offered the Star a first taste of their imitation meat options.
At its headquarters in Woodbridge, KFC’s food innovation and technology manager Armando Carrillo said his team worked at developing the meatless sandwiches and popcorn chicken options for the past six months.
“It took about five or six months to get it to a formula we were happy with,” says Carrillo. “Seasoning was a challenge because the amounts are different for a non-chicken protein. We went through more than 20 versions of it.”
The Mississauga location has prepared 1,000 sandwiches and about 750 servings of the plant-based popcorn chicken for Wednesday’s trial run. The meat-free options will be cooked in separate fryers from those used for chicken.
At first glance, they look like their meat counterparts: craggly bits of golden brown batter with the unmistakable smell of KFC’s secret seasoning.
The texture is pretty close to a ground chicken burger patty — especially when sandwiched with mayo and lettuce in a soft white bun. All the components work together to make my taste buds think I am eating a regular chicken burger. The plant-based popcorn chicken tastes closer to the real thing since the higher ratio of batter yields more of the 11 herbs and spices flavour associated with Kentucky Fried Chicken for so long.
The plant-based chicken alternative is made in collaboration with Lightlife, a subsidiary of Canadian food manufacturer Maple Leaf Foods, whose plant-based burgers can be found at supermarkets restaurants such as Harvey’s and Dave & Buster’s. While pea protein is the main ingredient in plant-based burgers, the plant-based chicken alternative at KFC is made with a combination of soybeans, fava beans and wheat gluten.
Those familiar with the centuries-old genre of Chinese vegetarian cooking will recognize soybeans and wheat gluten as a major component in creating mock meat (the wheat gluten helps with mimicking the fibrous, chewy texture of chicken).
Depending on consumer feedback, KFC is aiming for a larger roll out of its meatless options in the spring, says KFC Canada chief marketing officer Sam Redman. (KFC did a similar test launch in the U.S. earlier this year, but used Beyond Meat as its supplier.)
But don’t expect plant-based wings or drumsticks any time soon. “We pride ourselves in the real thing and the quality of our chicken,” she says. “As tempting as it sounds, I don’t think we’ll want to mimic chicken on the bone.”
A&W’s tasting took place at an outlet in Toronto’s Entertainment District and included it’s meatless chicken nuggets and a glass of root beer.
A&W does not have chicken nuggets on its menu, so there is nothing to directly compare this meatless version with. But they do taste the way a regular chicken nugget should: crunchy exterior, juicy meat on the inside with a salty, slightly spiced kick. Texture wise, it has more of a fibrous bite than KFC’s faux chicken. It’s definitely a step up from the veggie nuggets in the frozen section of the supermarket.
A&W’s nuggets, which also took six months to develop, are also a product of Lightlife but are made from a combination of fava beans, wheat gluten and pea protein.
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Lightlife president Dan Curtin, says while his company is supplying both KFC and A&W, the recipes are completely different and are created with the food companies’ input.
“Our guests have been asking for this for such a long time that we feel good about this launch,” says A&W Canada Susan Senecal, adding that the success of its meatless burgers, which are supplied by the U.S.-based Beyond Meat, has given the company confidence that more plant-based options will do well.
KFC’s plant-based sandwich (it also comes in a spicy version) costs $7 or $9 in a combo that includes fries and a drink. The plant-based popcorn chicken is $4 for a small bucket and $10 for a large bucket. A combo that includes the plant-based sandwich, plant-based popcorn chicken, salad, fries and a drink is $11. The sandwich contains 595 calories, 27 g protein, 29 g fat, 56 g carbohydrates and 1,750 mg sodium. A small bucket of plant-based popcorn chicken contains 250 calories, 13 g protein, 13 g fat, 17 g carbohydrates and 482 mg of sodium.
A&W’s plant-based nuggets cost $6 for six nuggets, $9 for 10 and $6 for a kid’s combo. An order of six nuggets contains 260 calories, 17 g protein, 11 g fat, 25 g carbohydrates and 550 mg of sodium.