It’s 6 p.m. and there’s no dinner on the table. Hunger pangs are growing and my children begin that all-too-familiar groan. It’s too late to pull something out of the freezer and drop into the insta-croc-mega-fryer-steam pot. I’m stuck and need some ideas for a healthy meal — and quick!
Chicken nuggets to the rescue! They’re my go-to meal and something my kids will devour without complaint, but they’re not the healthiest option. With the popularity of meat alternatives like the Beyond and the Impossible burgers, I was very interested to try a meatless version of chicken nuggets: something that offered enough protein and could satisfy my children’s hunger on those busy days after work and home-schooling. Something I didn’t feel as guilty about serving to my family and that had a lower environmental impact as well.
Enter Rebellyous Foods, a local food-production company producing a variety of meatless products for large companies, school districts and now households in the Pacific Northwest.
Before we got a chance to try these plant-based “chicken” nuggets, I sat down for a virtual meeting with Sandra Gray, the director of product development at Rebellyous Foods. Gray has more than 20 years experience in the food-production industry, starting out as a chef and restaurant owner. She joined Rebellyous Foods, finding interest in plant-based meat alternatives.
“There’s a lot of demand and a lot of curiosity. There are a lot of people who want to try these new things. It’s such a fun category to work in!”
I was one of those people who wanted to try these nuggets and also curious to know how kid-friendly and accessible they were for families. “They’re super-duper kid-friendly and in stores from Seattle to Oregon to California. Our mission is to make these plant-based alternatives delicious, affordable and widely available for everyone,” said Gray.
The taste test
The packaging shows golden nuggets with a crispy coating that look very much like any regular store-bought chicken nugget. The ingredient list — soy, wheat, textured plant proteins, isolates and seasoning — sounded like we were about to try the end product of a science experiment.
The directions suggest three possible ways to heat the nuggets: bake, pan fry and deep fry. Since I’m partial to baking, I popped the nuggets into a 425-degree oven for four minutes on each side. (They’re supposed to reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.)
I think the nuggets could have used a few more minutes in the oven to truly offer that crunchy coating, otherwise they resembled what a chicken nugget would look like, right down to that awkward square shape. The texture was similar to chicken and was spongy with juices dripping out when squeezed.
I placed these nuggets in front of my children, Nikhil, 9, and Simon, 6. I didn’t tell them that they were plant-based, in hopes that they would be open to trying a new “chicken” nugget. Admittedly, Nikhil is my adventurous eater and Simon is a little more picky about flavors and trying new foods.
Immediately Simon observed, “This smells sour!” while Nikhil said, “It smells like macaroni and cheese! Yum!”
Both take a taste. The results are split. Simon nibbles one and then tries it with ketchup. His biggest concerns are the smell of the seasoning and the fact that it “doesn’t taste like chicken.” Nikhil gobbles up his share, with and without ketchup, then asks for his brother’s samples, too.
I reveal to them that the nugget was not made out of chicken, but soy and wheat with some plant products. Both boys stare at me. “See! I told you it wasn’t chicken,” said Simon.
The plant-based nuggets were clearly a winner for my oldest. Nikhil said he liked the taste and thought it was just as good as a chicken nugget. What about the texture? He said it was spongy, “… but in a good way. I’d love to try this again!”
So it was a mixed verdict for Rebellyous Plant-Based Nuggets at my house. They won’t end up in our regular rotation of nuggets, not because of our taste-testing results, but because the nearest grocery store carrying them is almost 40 minutes from my home. That won’t stop me from trying other plant-based foods, though: anything to offer a healthier alternative for family meals that are quick and environmentally friendly.
Originally published October 2020