Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Nuggs review: We tried the meat-free chicken nuggets

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(CNN) —  

If you’ve logged on to Instagram recently, you’ve probably seen the frequent ads promoting the direct-to-consumer plant-based “chicken” company. Featuring bright, enticing graphics, Nuggs bills itself as “a chicken nugget simulation” that utilizes “advanced soy protein technology” to mimic the “texture and flavor of an animal-based nugget.”

Obviously, we had to try them out. As a former vegetarian — for over 10 years — I know my way around plant-based meat substitutes. As a current carnivore, I’m also extremely up to speed on what chicken tenders taste like.

When you order Nuggs on the Simulate website, you can pick from a 50-pack or 100-pack box, and they’re available in plain and spicy flavors. As of December, the company is also offering Discs, which are plant-based sandwich patties.

  • Nuggs ($34.99 for a 50-pack or $44.99 for a 100-pack; simulate.com)
  • Spicy Nuggs ($34.99 for a 50-pack or $44.99 for a 100-pack; simulate.com)
  • Discs ($34.99 for an 8-pack or $44.99 for a 16-pack; simulate.com)

When I opened my box of the nuggets, I was surprised how many there were — 50 nuggets looks like a lot, and a great value — and I baked them as directed for 13 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit. The directions suggest using parchment paper, which helps them bake well and makes for a super-easy cleanup. You can also drop them in an air fryer for 10 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Five of the nuggets are 210 calories, and the ingredients include soybean oil, textured wheat protein, soy protein, breadcrumbs and more for flavoring.

The original and spicy Nuggs going into the oven

PHOTO:
Tanya Edwards/CNN

The original and spicy Nuggs going into the oven

I lined up a buffet of dipping sauces — the brand’s own sauce, a sriracha mayo I whipped up quickly and another BBQ sauce — while the Nuggs were baking. When I pulled my mix of plain and spicy nuggets out they were sizzling and looked surprisingly like actual frozen chicken nuggets.

I picked up a plain nugget and dipped it in the sauce and popped it in my mouth. It’s pretty hard to tell the difference between the breaded plant-based nugget and a regular frozen chicken nugget. These aren’t meant to be a high-end meal; Nuggs are closer to the tendies you might have baked after school for your friends when you were a teenager, or picked up at a fast-food restaurant. The spicy nuggets were also very tasty and had a nice heat to them, but somehow they were a bit drier than the original.

The original and spicy Nuggs with an array of sauces

PHOTO:
Tanya Edwards/CNN

The original and spicy Nuggs with an array of sauces

The breading is the forward texture here, not the protein substitute, and they lack that spongy texture of a lot of plant-based “meats.” It’s up to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not, but I enjoyed the crisp, flaky breading. The brand’s own BBQ sauce is super tasty — it’s a mustardy, Carolina-style sauce that pairs well with both the plain and spicy.

A Nugg with the brand

PHOTO:
Nuggs

A Nugg with the brand’s own sauce

A few days later, I made another batch of the nuggets for lunch, and I baked them one minute less than the recommended time, with parchment paper, and they came out much juicier. If your oven tends to run a little hot, like mine, you may need to adjust cooking time for peak tastiness.

One thing I did notice, especially after the first time I ate the nuggets, was that I had a touch of heartburn after I ate them. Nutritionist Kristen Ciccolini, founder of Good Witch Kitchen, took a look at the ingredients and shares that they’re “primarily all derived from wheat, corn and soy, which are among the most common food allergens, so anyone with an allergy or sensitivity should obviously steer clear.”

A Nuggs Disc

PHOTO:
Nuggs

A Nuggs Disc

While I don’t have any allergies or sensitivities, I don’t eat a lot of processed foods in my normal diet. Ciccolini says that may be the reason I needed to take an antacid. “It’s highly processed, and all the ingredients are basically extractions of what was once a whole food (probably to get the most out of the protein content), put back together again to form a foodlike product,” she says. “Not necessarily a bad thing if eaten occasionally, but good to be mindful of how your body reacts to it.”

She also says people with hormonal issues may want to steer clear, explaining, “Soy foods can have a phytoestrogenic effect on the body (phytoestrogens are natural xenoestrogens that come from plants and can mimic our own production of estrogen in the body). For people who deal with hormonal issues related to their menstrual cycle or thyroid, they may want to avoid Nuggs since this product relies heavily on soy.”

Would I eat Nuggs again? Definitely — just not every day. If you’re seeking a plant-based protein swap that tastes like the tendies of your youth that’s delivered to your door in bulk, these nuggets are a delightful choice.

  • Nuggs ($34.99 for a 50-pack or $44.99 for a 100-pack; simulate.com)
  • Spicy Nuggs ($34.99 for a 50-pack or $44.99 for a 100-pack; simulate.com)
  • Discs ($34.99 for an 8-pack or $44.99 for a 16-pack; simulate.com)

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