Trying to eat less meat? KFC's latest offering might help you achieve that goal — in a crispy, crunchy, finger-lickin' way.
The iconic fried chicken chain has been testing a new recipe using a plant-based protein product instead of poultry wings, breasts or thighs. Initially, back in August, the chicken-free chicken was sold at just one Atlanta location, where it sold out in less than five hours.
"They [KFC executives] wanted to do the smaller test to gauge this area's feedback to see if it sells out, if it doesn't sell out," a company spokesperson told TODAY Food at the time.
Since the test went so well, KFC has decided to try it again, this time offering the meat-free option at more than 70 locations. However, only a few lucky tasters in and around Charlotte, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee, will get to give it a try.
"The iconic flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, despite many imitations, until now," said Andrea Zahumensky, the chief marketing officer of KFC U.S., in a press release. "We've really pushed the limits to develop plant-based chicken that I think will have KFC and plant-based protein fans saying, 'That's finger lickin' good.'"
The second round of testing starts on Feb. 3 and will last through Feb. 23, or while supplies last, according to the company.
So what's really in the new fried dish?
While many animal protein alternatives have mimicked the taste and texture of chicken, KFC is using Beyond Meat's chicken substitute designed specifically for the brand. The base is a plant-based wheat protein that free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), antibiotics and hormones. It's then coated in KFC breadcrumbs, which a spokesperson confirmed is similar to (but not exactly) its secret recipe of 11 herbs and spices.
Beyond Fried Chicken will be available as nuggets and boneless wings tossed in Nashville Hot, Buffalo or Honey BBQ sauce. Customers will be able to try the nuggets in six or 12-piece combos with a side and a medium drink for $6.50 or $8.50, respectively. Individual orders sans sides start at just $2.
"KFC Beyond Fried Chicken is so delicious, our customers will find it difficult to tell that it's plant-based," said Kevin Hochman, president and chief concept officer for KFC U.S. "I think we've all heard 'it tastes like chicken' — well, our customers are going to be amazed and say, 'it tastes like Kentucky Fried Chicken!'"
Hochman first held meetings with alternative meat producing companies in May, but was initially opposed to swapping out any poultry products.
"If you would have asked me six months ago, I would have said no, to be completely honest with you," Hochman told Business Insider. "Because we're about fried chicken."
Plenty of people on social media are pretty skeptical about the idea of a vegetarian KFC meal, especially given the fact that this new fried dish isn't exactly a plate of healthy fruits and veggies.
Still, the company spokesperson told TODAY the alternative has 1/3 less calories, 50% less sodium and is lower in total fat and cholesterol than KFC's traditional popcorn chicken nuggets, plus equal amounts (5 grams) of protein.
Plenty more are totally on board, which isn't surprising, given the recent meteoric rise of plant-based proteins.
Plant-based "meats" from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have become increasingly popular in grocery stores, restaurants and quick-service chains. Burger King adapted the Impossible Burger as a new Whopper patty earlier this month and chicken tycoon Tyson recently launched vegetarian "chicken" nuggets made with pea protein isolate, golden flaxseed, bamboo and egg whites.
"The response in Atlanta continues to underscore the growing consumer demand for high-quality, delicious plant-based meats," said Ethan Brown, the Beyond Meat Founder and CEO, in a press release. "Together with KFC's team, we have created a plant-based chicken that looks, tastes and pulls apart like a chicken breast. I am very proud of what our R&D teams have accomplished and look forward to continuing to lead the charge on plant-based chicken."
This post was originally published Aug. 26, 2019 and has been updated to reflect new info.