Which of these frozen vegan chicken brands makes the tastiest product?
I’m late to the vegan chicken scene, but this summer during grad school I relied on frozen foods a lot. It started with vegan chicken nuggets, of course. I’ve never really enjoyed meat but back when I did eat it, one of my favourite fast foods was the chicken nugget. I think it’s because it’s hardly meat at that point. Just a homogenous mixture of a bunch of starch and protein, packed with MSG. It’s the shit!!!
The vegan and plant-based chicken marketplace has exploded in recent years. There are a dizzyingly number of brands to choose from in the grocery store. Most have far outgrown any semblance of the gluten or pea protein ingredients that they’re made of, and some of them look just like real chicken. But appearances aside, the most important question is: do any of them taste good?
That’s what I’m here to find out. (Note: this post is not sponsored in any way and I do not use affiliate links.)
- Beyond Meat (Beyond Chicken)
- Field Roast Plant-Based Nuggets
- Impossible Chicken Nuggets
- Plantein Plant-Based Nuggets
- Simulate NUGGS Plant-Based Nuggets
- Sol Cuisine
- Zoglo’s Pub-Style Tenders
- Conclusion: The Best Vegan Chicken Brand
Beyond Meat (Beyond Chicken)
Beyond Meat is most well-known for their hyper-realistic beef patties, but they have also branched out into chicken nuggets and chicken tenders.
The most famous offering of Beyond Chicken is A&W’s Beyond Meat Nuggets which I first tried on a road trip in 2021. (Unfortunately, despite being popular, they were a limited-time item and are not on the menu anymore.) Even though I ate them out of a greasy paper bag, standing over a counter full of crumbs, I was impressed by the flavour.
Look: Take a look at the cross-section of this nugget. Doesn’t it look scarily similar to real meat? The size of each nugget is substantial and the breading makes it look pretty appealing.
Texture: I do remember thinking they were a bit too firm, not as soft and juicy as I would’ve liked. But maybe that’s a result of this particular A&W location overcooking them and not a fault of the product itself.
Taste: With some dipping sauce, you could fool some into thinking these A&W Beyond Nuggets are real chicken nuggets. The breading was good too. Not dry or crumbly, and complemented the taste of the “meat.”
Like A&W, KFC has also jumped on the Beyond Meat bandwagon. I haven’t tried their Beyond Fried Chicken Nuggets yet. Once I have, I’ll update this section with my review.
Have you tried the A&W or KFC plant-based Beyond Nuggets? What did you think of them? Share your experience in the comments.
Field Roast Plant-Based Nuggets
Look: These nuggets were round, and a bit flat. They look pretty pasty out of the bag, but once baked, they develop a nice brown colour. Not the most exciting breading—as you can see in these pictures, they’re rather dry—but they look adequately nugget-like.
Texture: Despite their unexciting appearance, Field Roast nuggets are a good chunky size and make for satisfying eating. Their consistency was not too juicy nor wet, and not too dry either. I loved biting into them.
Taste: Biting into one of these unlocked a mashup of two food memories:
- KFC spices (especially whatever seasoning they use for their mashed potatoes)
- Lightlife burger (no, not their chicken, I mean the burger)
You might think that’s a weird flavour combo. I mean, we’re trying to enjoy chicken nuggets here, not burgers or mashed potatoes. But it’s actually quite tasty! KFC mashed potatoes were one of my favourite fast food items, so anything that can get close to their flavour is a winner in my book.
Some restaurants use Field Roast chicken to provide a vegan option on their menu. One example is the Pizza Nova chain here in Canada.
The chick’n product used by Pizza Nova in their Plantollini plant-based chicken bites is from Field Roast. However, the Plantollinis are thicker, and have a much firmer texture than the frozen Field Roast nuggets that I bought from the grocery store. They were kind of rubbery.
Aside from the texture, which is too firm, the taste is great and very chicken-like. I swear, some bites even contained a whiff of the briny “meat” odour that is all too common in real chicken nuggets.
There’s a vegan joint here in Calgary called V Burger. I tried one of the most realistic vegan fried chicken burgers of my life here. They also sell some tasty vegan chicken nuggets. No confirmation as to their plant-based meat supplier, but my theory is that they get it from Field Roast. The nuggets here have the same shape, texture, and firmness as the Plantollini, I swear they use the same brand.
Gardein has so many vegan chicken products out there, it makes my head spin. The only ones I managed to find in my store are the Crispy Fingers, Crispy Golden Chick’n Nuggets, and Chick’n Tenders, so that’s what I’ll be reviewing for now.
Gardein Chipotle Lime Flavored Crispy Fingers
It seems like they changed the name of this product recently, because my package calls them “Meat-Free Crispy Fingers” yet I can only find “Chipotle Lime Chick’n Tenders” on the Gardein website. The picture on the package still looks the same, so I assume they’re still the same thing, just with a more chicken-y name.
Look: Wins the award for most interesting-looking breading. The breading is a deep golden brown and looks very multigrain and healthy. The inside looks just like any of Gardein’s other chicken products.
Texture and taste: The breading is too crunchy, and not that flavourful despite its colourful appearance. It has a slight hint of Coke, I’m serious, something in the chipotle lime seasoning reminds me of Coke. But ignoring the breading, it has a very juicy inside and good flavour/texture. I even overcooked one batch by 3 minutes and it was none for the worse when I bit into it.
Gardein Crispy Golden Chick’n Nuggets
Look: These are some of the most realistically-shaped nuggets I tried. They look just like the chicken nuggets you’d order from some fast food restaurant drive-through. The colour is a light golden-yellow, also very similar to most fast food nuggets. The inside of the nugget looks very realistic! I also love how thick these nuggets are, they were probably the thickest ones I tested.
Texture: The layer of breading was thinner and finer-textured than most other brands, which I like.
Taste: They taste sooo close to typical fast food nuggets, think McDonald’s or Burger King. No complaints from me!
Gardein Nashville-Style Hot Chick’n Tenders
Look: Very appealing look, with a reddish-brown colour and a thick, chunky layer of breading.
Texture: The texture of these nuggets is actually rather different from Gardein’s crispy fingers or chick’n nuggets. The inside has a smoother, finer grain, and a less bouncy/rubbery feel. I can’t tell which style of filling I prefer, because all of Gardein’s products are delectable. The breading is nice and crunchy.
Taste: They’re not as spicy as the Sol Cuisine Hot & Spicy Chik’n Wings, but do pack some noticeable heat. It’s a good balance between spiciness vs chicken-y flavour.
Any other Gardein “chicken” products that you’ve tried? Leave a comment below to let me know how you liked it.
Impossible Chicken Nuggets
Look: Similar to the Gardein Chick’n Nuggets, but rounder and flatter, with a deeper almost orange colour.
Texture: This one is near the top with regards to realistic texture. One small quibble is that they are slightly dry. Unlike some of the Gardein, Lightlife, and Sol Cuisine options, which are juicy and don’t require sauce, these Impossible nuggets would be improved by some dipping sauce.
Taste: These taste great. Not bursting with flavour like the Sol Cuisine offerings, but closely mimics the taste of real chicken nuggets.
Lightlife sells several varieties of vegan chicken, both breaded and non-breaded. Let’s talk about the two fried breaded versions first.
Lightlife Plant-Based Chicken Tenders
Look: The inside is quite accurate to the look of real meat, in my opinion. Their colour doesn’t change much during baking, going from a beige-ish yellow to a deeper, golden yellow once cooked.
Texture: Firmer than some of the others, but in a way that’s more realistic. The chew was great, very satisfying.
Taste: In a word, delicious. One of my favourites. Perfectly seasoned and doesn’t even need sauce to be enjoyed. The spice blend is really working for me!
Lightlife Plant-Based Chicken Fillets
Look: These plant-based chicken fillets are the same as the chicken tenders, except in a larger size.
Texture: They’re meant for vegan fried chicken sandwiches, but personally I found the texture a tad too chewy. If you put a whole uncut fillet into a burger, I’d imagine you’d be tearing at it like this with the rest of the fillings falling out in your frenzy. The firm bite is better suited to the smaller Lightlife chicken tenders. That said, there is something SO SATISFYING about chomping into a giant piece of fried protein. Knowing this is an option at the grocery store, I’ll probably never crave for real chicken again.
Taste: Like the chicken tenders, they’re beautifully seasoned and taste awesome.
Lightlife Smart Tenders Plant-Based Chicken
I haven’t yet tried Smart Tenders, which are a lower calorie, un-breaded chicken substitute suitable for stir fries, stews, etc. I will update this review when I get my hands on them.
Plantein Plant-Based Nuggets
Plantein is fairly new to the Canadian market so I haven’t found them in stores yet. However, I recently went to Denny’s (don’t judge) and found some Plantein options on their plant-based menu. I ordered the Plantein nuggets with hash browns.
Look: Don’t judge these pictures too harshly. Blame Denny’s for the horrible lighting and plating. The nuggets looked decent, but the sizes were a bit inconsistent as you can see. They look a lot like Japanese croquettes (korokke).
Texture: The breading was great, all very even, and super crunchy. I’m pretty sure Denny’s fried them which gave them an unfair advantage since the other products I’ve been testing at home have been baked in my toaster oven, but still, kudos on a great nugget crust. The inner texture was good too, neither too soft nor too firm, and not dried out.
Taste: They tasted similar to the Lightlife and Field Roast nuggets. A top contender for sure.
Simulate NUGGS Plant-Based Nuggets
NUGGS were hyped when they came out, so I was excited when they went on sale at my grocery store. I bought two boxes to try, one in each flavour: Original and Spicy.
Look: These NUGGS have a familiar fast food nugget size and shape, but were flatter compared to the other ones reviewed in this post. If they were slightly thicker, they would’ve better imitated real chicken nuggets.
Texture: The first bite was… disappointing, to be honest. I was expecting a texture that was closer to the real thing. These nuggets were a bit mushy, not quite chewy enough, while simultaneously being too dry and grainy. Both the outer crust and the inside were bone dry. For a second baking attempt, I cooked them for 1 minute shorter than the package instructions, but they still came out way too dry.
Taste: Both flavours were a bit bland. They were tasty, don’t get me wrong, but not as good as the other brands I tried. What seasoning there was, though, was on point; it just could’ve been a little stronger. The Original tastes closest to what a typical fast food chicken nugget tastes like. The Spicy one is decently spicy. (It won’t set your mouth aflame, but you’ll definitely feel a little heat in your throat.)
Sol Cuisine offers Bites, Tenders, and Wings. All three products are amazing. This is one of my favourite plant-based chicken brands along with Lightlife. Because they are so juicy and moist, another perk is that you can overcook them by quite a bit and they’d still be good to eat, with no noticeable dryness.
Sol Cuisine Crispy Chik’n Tenders
Look: The Sol Cuisine tenders look exactly how a self-respecting tendie should look. Once baked, they become a light, even, golden brown. So enticing.
Texture: Really nice texture and crispy crunchy breading! The inside was almost a little too juicy and soft. The filling is a bit more “loosely” packed, so it’s not as close to a real meat nugget. Some bites reminded me of biting into shredded firm tofu. But being a tofu lover, that’s not a bad thing. The outer breading is made of fine breadcrumbs, making for a nice crunchy outside.
Taste: Nicely salted and seasoned. They are tasty enough to eat on their own without sauce. Has a very buttery taste which adds to the other delicious seasonings going on. If you want to luxuriate in a sinful, satisfying junk-food-vegan experience, these are the way to go. Also a bit sweeter and less salty, compared to other brands (but only if you eat and compare them side by side).
Sol Cuisine Crispy Chik’n Bites
The bites are also soft and moist, and have the same flavour as the Sol Cuisine tenders. The “meat fiber” chunks are bigger than the tenders, so not quite as realistic, but still very satisfying to bite into. If your favourite part of nuggets is the breading, then these bites are perfect for you because they offer a higher surface area to filling ratio than the tenders. It comes with a nice tangy barbeque sauce that pairs well with the plant-based chicken, but you can even enjoy the bites by themselves, no sauce needed. They’re that good.
Sol Cuisine Hot & Spicy Chik’n Wings
The Sol Cuisine wings have the same filling as their other vegan chicken offerings, but the breading is spicy. VERY spicy, actually. It’s noticeably red compared to the golden yellow colour of the bites and tenders.
In addition, they tasted even sweeter than the other offerings from this brand. The smell of these wings reminded me of salted egg yolk, weirdly enough. (Fellow Asians will know what I’m talking about!)
I admit I’m partial towards Yves because:
- They’re a Canadian brand.
- They’ve been around foreeever. (Yves, Tofurkey, and Chao were the three pillars of my formative plant-based experience, back when grocery stores were just beginning to stock meat and dairy alternatives. And I’ll always think of them fondly!)
Let’s see how their vegan chicken products stack up.
How many of these vegan nugget brands have you tasted?
Yves Ancient Grains Chicken Tenders
Look: With the whole “ancient grains” thing, they’re clearly going for a healthy vibe. The look of the nuggets reflects that. I didn’t take a picture of these tenders, but they are similar in shape and size to the Sol Cuisine Chik’n Tenders, but with a more wholegrain breading.
Texture: Not as greasy as other brands, but this also means they are more easily overcooked. These Yves tenders still have a great satisfying mouthfeel.
Taste: SO! GOOD! But be careful not to overcook them because they go from perfectly juicy to dry in like a minute. I tried these side by side with Sol Cuisine, and found these saltier, though it makes sense because Sol Cuisine does taste less salty in side-by-side comparisons with other brands too.
Yves Chick’n Nuggets
Look: The breading is already a dark brown colour, and doesn’t change much during its time in the oven. The interior of the nugget looks a bit… spongy, for lack of a better word.
Texture: Luckily, they don’t feel spongy when you dig in. Unlike the Gardein and Sol Cuisine products, these overcook easily. If you overbake them, the mouthfeel becomes less realistic and they get chewy. Also, the breading is quite dry.
Taste: The inner filling of these Yves nuggets is on point. Way more realistic than the NUGGS. However, the breading was weird and healthy-tasting. Like… it used cornflakes or something? I later found out the breading is made of whole wheat, which explains it.
Yves Veggie Chick’n Tenders
Look: Not the most appetizing, as they come packaged in a vacuum-sealed greyish blob. But you can see various specks of spices throughout each tender, which gives the eater some hope that they have been seasoned generously.
Texture: [Paul Hollywood voice] Rubbery.
Taste: Although fully cooked and safe to eat out of the package like all Yves products, these tenders are not meant to be enjoyed plain. Tossed in sauce, or simmered in a flavourful stew like this vegan gumbo, they would be great, but on their own they don’t have too much to offer. That said, I was expecting them to be even more bland than they are so they certainly exceeded my expectations. They taste slightly doughy, but overall are not that bad of a high-protein snack right out of the bag!
Zoglo’s Pub-Style Tenders
Look: Zoglo’s tenders have a unique shape, reminiscent of a drumstick: tapering from one large end down to the other smaller end. They are skinnier than the other tenders, meaning you get a bit more breading surface area ratio. They turn a beautiful, alluring golden brown colour when baked, and I definitely burned my mouth once in my eagerness to try a bite right out of the oven. One small nitpick is that the breading does not evenly cover some of the nuggets, as you can see in the picture below. But this didn’t impact the overall taste of each bite, only the aesthetic.
Texture: Nice and juicy inside! My one complaint is that the breading doesn’t get super crisp (maybe because it’s a little too oily; these tenders were the greasiest of the bunch). Like Sol Cuisine, Zoglo’s tenders have more of a tofu-like taste and texture
Taste: The pub-style tenders are less seasoned than other brands, even more so than Sol Cuisine. You wouldn’t notice this if you were eating them on their own, but since I was tasting like 10 different brands side by side, they tasted slightly bland in comparison. However, they’re still really delicious.
Conclusion: The Best Vegan Chicken Brand
If you’re looking for the most realistic chicken experience: Beyond, Gardein, Field Roast, Impossible, Lightlife, Plantein are all solid choices. It’s hard to pick a standout from these but I would say Lightlife is my personal favourite because the seasoning blend is amazing. Plus, they are one of the easier-to-find brands in Canadian grocery stores. But you can’t go wrong with any of those.
On the other hand, Sol Cuisine and Zoglo’s may offer less realistic chick’n tenders but that doesn’t make them any less delicious. Some people just want to enjoy a fast-food-like product that tastes good without pretending too hard to be meat. For that, I think Sol Cuisine slightly edges out Zoglo’s, but both of these brands make great vegan tenders.
Finally, for spice lovers, I especially recommend Sol Cuisine Hot & Spicy Chik’n Wings. They were surprisingly spicy, especially if you eat a bunch in a row!
Here are my overall rankings, from best to worst. Note I left out the non-fried varieties from this ranking (ones that are supposed to be cooked further, like the Yves Veggie Chick’n Tenders) since I didn’t think that would be a fair comparison.
- Sol Cuisine Crispy Chik’n Tenders (GOAT)
- Lightlife Plant-Based Chicken Tenders (most realistic)
- Gardein Crispy Golden Chick’n Nuggets
- Sol Cuisine Hot & Spicy Chik’n Wings
- Beyond Meat Beyond Chicken
- Yves Ancient Grains Chicken Tenders
- Plantein Plant-Based Nuggets
- Sol Cuisine Crispy Chik’n Bites
- Impossible Chicken Nuggets
- Zoglo’s Pub-Style Tenders
- Gardein Nashville-Style Hot Chick’n Tenders
- Field Roast Plant-Based Nuggets
- Lightlife Plant-Based Chicken Fillets
- Gardein Crispy Fingers (Chick’n Tenders)
- Simulate NUGGS Plant-Based Nuggets
- Yves Chick’n Nuggets
What do you think of these rankings? Did I commit an injustice against your favourite brand? Whether you agree or disagree, I want to hear your thoughts.