KFC launches a Vegan Chicken Sandwich
The New Vegan KFC Chicken Sandwich is here – so is it any good and healthy? What is healthy? The question begs partisanship like politics or religion. But regardless of if you’re on team meat or team veggie, one thing is for certain – today, everyone has more options. Of the major fast-food conglomerates to move into the plant-based space, the newest, and perhaps most surprising, is none other than KFC. The company, after all, sports the word “chicken” in its name.
But KFC is far from the first major chain to try plant-based alternatives. It is, however, the first to try it with chicken. This article will look into the story, ingredients, and reception of KFC’s principal, new meat-alternative: the Imposter burger.
In response to the growing demand for Vegan options, KFC Canada’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Sam Redman stated that KFC believes “the Colonel’s famous finger lickin’ good taste should have no boundaries.” The chain decided to rectify just that. In November of 2019, KFC teamed up with plant-based food manufacturer Lightlife to debut their new vegan fried chicken sandwich at a location in Ontario, Canada.
The Imposter Burger
The new sandwich, aptly named the Imposter Burger, came in both spicy and regular flavors, giving vegans the long-sought-after plant-based alternative they had been waiting for. The trialing of the sandwich drew much attention, and, at a relatively high price of $6.99 CAD, there were still questions that needed answering. The results? In six hours the sandwich was sold out. The incredible response prompted KFC Canada to roll out the sandwich nationwide on August 10th, 2020.
Across the pond, KFC UK also decided to give The Imposter Burger a go. Here too it defied expectations. The sandwich reportedly sold out five times faster than the average new product. This time, Victoria Robertson, KFC’s Chief Vegetable Enthusiast (CVE) said, “vegans have been cruelly denied the incredible taste of KFC up to now, which is why we’ve worked hard to perfect The Imposter – a vegan burger that the Colonel would be proud of.” Again, we have happy vegans and an even happier Colonel.
Is the Vegan KFC Sandwich Healthy?
So is this Imposter Burger actually healthy, or is it a phony like its’ name would suggest? The sandwich contains a plant-based chicken substitute, lettuce, vegan mayonnaise, and KFC’s own classic herbs and spices. Just about every plant-based substitute shares a similar ingredient list. But the key to understanding the quality of these alternative sandwiches is in the source of the meat replacement. For the Imposter Burger, and many other of its’ ilk, the “chicken” is derived from something called “Quorn”.
Quorn is quickly growing into a billion dollar industry. It, along with other meat-alternatives, has taken the health-world by storm. Originating in the UK more than 30 years ago, Quorn is not a recent breakthrough. Essentially, it is created from cultured fungus, called mycoprotein, and, in the vegan version, mixed with potato protein, which acts as a binding agent to help manipulate the Quorn into various textures and forms.
Due to its adjustable color and subtle flavor, Quorn works well as a substitute for several meats. The end result is a meat-alternative that is high in protein and fiber and low in saturated fat. Some experts consider Quorn’s higher fiber and lower caloric content preferable to that of most meat’s. Further, Quorn’s carbon footprint is estimated to be 80 percent lower than beef’s.
Though Quorn has surface-level advantages over meat, a deeper dive reveals murkier waters. One point of contention is over the fraudulent “plant-based” labeling. After all, the process of making Quorn is anything but natural or “plant-based”. It requires exogenous additions of glucose, nitrogen, and several vitamins and minerals, not to mention the factory flavorings and colorings or the tapioca starch and gelling agents.
Worst of all, when Quorn debuted in the US in 2002, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged retailers to pull Quorn from US stores because it reportedly sickened 4.5 percent of consumers, though manufacturer Marlow Foods disputed the number.
Evidently, Quorn is not a perfect replacement for meat. And though it may be “hyper-processed”, it is unclear if that makes it any worse than meat. More importantly for vegans and vegetarians (and KFC), no animals are harmed in the making of Quorn. So while the strictest of vegans may pass on the Imposter Burger, KFC still has a large group of vegans and vegetarians to cull new customers from.
Trying the Vegan KFC Chicken Sandwich
With the news that KFC was rolling out the Imposter Burger to several of its stores, many vegans were excited to finally try KFC. One commenter on VegNews spoke of her excitement of trying the Imposter Burger for the first time. After checking several times to make sure her sandwich was truly vegan, she dug in, saying she was “happy to have a new fast food option”, and “the sandwich is good, but it does not taste exactly like chicken, something I am happy about”. While most commenters agreed with the sentiment, a healthy contingent did not care if the sandwich was tasty or, well, healthy.
Some critics saw KFC’s adoption of meat-alternative menu-items as nothing more than a marketing ploy, a shtick that rendered the company no less problematic. One social media user rebuked, “KFC murders millions of chickens every year. Just because they now have a vegan option, it doesn’t make the chain suddenly cruelty-free. If you buy the vegan burger, you are still paying to hurt chickens”. While others did commiserate with this viewpoint, most reviews veered positive.
Video Review: Trying the Vegan KFC Chicken Sandwich
Though it seems KFC has not found itself a truly healthy, plant-based alternative, it is unlikely the addition of the Imposter Burger will cause the chain any harm. The positive reception and lack of animal products will likely draw many new customers. Further, the vegans who do not find the Imposter Burger redeeming were never going to eat at KFC anyway. Most importantly, healthy or not, ethical or not, the majority of people only care about taste, and the Imposter Burger seems to be winning that contest.