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Are Beyond Beef's plant-based burgers and KFC’s new Beyond Chicken friends or faux?

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.
The Forum
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Don’t tell my Dad.

But as of late, I’ve been experimenting with — gulp! — meat substitutes.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am, for all intents and purposes, a bona fide rancher’s daughter. There is a picture in our family album in which I am all of 9 years old and happily gnawing meat off what looks to be the tibia of a brontosaurus.

I enjoy few things more than a perfectly crisp slice of bacon, a fork-tender hunk of pot roast or a mile-high, juicy cheeseburger on a toasted bun.

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But for various reasons, ranging from economic to health-related, I’ve been more open to the prospect of occasional flexetarian eating lately.

So if that means occasionally choking down a counterfeit cow or a faux fowl, so be it.

This does not make me an early adapter. Beyond Beef and Impossible Burgers have been around for years now, although I’ve long wondered how they stack up to the real thing. Or, as my Dad might put it: “How on earth can a bunch of bird-feeder food taste anything like carefully raised, grass-fed, 93-percent-lean Angus beef?”

Plant-based chicken nuggets also aren't new, although the fact that fried chicken giant KFC recently announced a national, limited-time release of its "Beyond Chicken" nuggets has made this new non-meat option newsworthy.

Now, I've tried both the bogus burger and the fraudulent fowl. Hey, it's for science (or something). Besides, when else will I get a chance to pack this many chicken puns into one column?

Beyond Beef works if you're minding your peas and moos

Prepared carefully and eaten fresh, the Beyond Beef burger is one of the better meat substitutes out there.

Made from a pea protein isolate, Beyond Beef's mouthfeel is similar, if softer than ground beef, and with a very subtle bitter aftertaste that left me slightly unsettled.

012922.B.FF.SWIFTCOL2.JPG View of Beyond Beef burger
The ingredient label for Beyond Beef burger isn’t too disturbing: pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, dried yeast, cocoa butter, beet powder color, apple and pomegranate extracts, vinegar, lemon juice, B vitamins and a handful of other ingredients.
Tammy Swift / The Forum

Although my housemates complained that the raw Beyond Beef burger smelled like “dog food,” the burgers do fry up to look remarkably similar to ground beef — down to the beet juice that makes them pink in the center.

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Results are even better if you serve the bogus burger on high-quality toasted buns and top with a hunk of nice, melty cheese. Or, as one of my friends suggested, you could substitute the top and bottom bun for two beef burgers, which would make it taste even better.

Since it was recently reformulated, the Beyond Beef burger has slightly less saturated fat and fewer calories than 80/20 ground beef. (However, it’s worth noting that extra-lean ground beef actually contains less saturated fat than the Beyond Beef version.)

Final verdict: This is one of the better meat substitutes out there, although — at $5.99 a pound — it won't save much on the grocery bill. I'd like to try it crumbled into a noodle casserole or some other hotdish.

Will KFC's Beyond Chicken have us crying 'fowl' or 'foul'?

When it came time to try the KFC counterfeit, I kept my expectations low. It seemed much easier to replicate the softer, minced texture of ground beef than the solid hunk of meat from a real chicken thigh or chicken breast.

At first glance, KFC’s meatless nuggets — developed specifically for the Colonel by Beyond Meat — seemed to lay an egg. The “null-gets” lacked that spicy, fried aroma of good fried chicken. The disturbingly symmetrical nuggets looked, as one of my taste-testers observed, “like deep-fried erasers.”

012722.B.FF.SWIFTCOL1.JPG
The interior of a KFC Beyond Chicken nugget (right) as compared to that of a real chicken tender on the left.
Tammy Swift / The Forum

Gingerly, we each took a faux nugget and tore it in half to check out the texture. It actually had the same striated texture of real cooked poultry — even more so than the real chicken tenders we'd also purchased for comparison’s sake.

If anything, the texture is too firm — like an overmicrowaved Banquet chicken breast. Even so, the nugget still tastes like, well, chicken.

In fact, taste-tester Chris announced that he preferred it over the real KFC tenders: “There’s more flavor, it has a good texture, the pieces are nice and crunchy and the ‘meat’ is a little greasy — like real chicken should be,” he said. “I’d take Beyond Chicken over the real tenders any day.”

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Another taste-tester was less impressed. “It’s got some girth and a nice chew to it,” he said. “But there’s no way there’s 11 herbs and spices in there, unless that includes salt, salt and more salt.”

We all agreed that the dipping sauces helped our fake fowl “wing it” even more. Granted, even real chicken nuggets aren't a culinary triumph, so the addition of a honey mustard or zesty barbecue sauce is a must. In this case, the sauces will help your tastebuds mistake this Legless Fauxhorn for real chicken.

How does it stack up nutrition-wise? Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets have 480 calories, 27 grams of fat, a whopping 1,440 milligrams of sodium and 30 grams of carbs in a six-piece serving. (It's worth noting that the fake fowl is "not prepared in (a) vegan/vegetarian manner," according to KFC's own press release.)

In comparison, six pieces of KFC's extra-crispy, slightly larger tenders have 810 calories with 43 grams of fat, 1,890 milligrams of sodium and 48 grams of carbs.

Final verdict? Lord of the wings, it ain't. Even so, it is a competent cluckless counterfeit.

Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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