What Is Vegan Chicken Made Of, Actually?

Food science is an incredible thing. TV dinners. Cronuts. Dippin’ Dots. Thank the gods for those scientists toiling away in their kitchen laboratories, creating these food innovations that we didn’t even know we needed. And perhaps the greatest of them all: non-meat meat. Finally, vegetarians and vegans can enjoy the simple pleasure of tearing into chicken flesh with the satisfaction of knowing that no animals were harmed in the making of it. But what exactly goes into the making of vegan chicken? 

What is plant-based chicken?

Plant-based chicken isn’t chicken that’s been fed plants. It’s faux chicken made from plant protein, which makes it an acceptable meat alternative for vegetarians and sometimes vegans (depending on how it is further processed).  

What is vegan chicken?

Vegan chicken is plant-based chicken that is made without any animal products or byproducts. For example, you might have a plant-based chicken nugget whose coating is made with egg—that’s fine for most vegetarians, but not vegans. Vegan chicken nuggets are made with plants, plants, and only plants. 

What is vegan chicken made of?

A common ingredient used to make vegan chicken is seitan, which is actually vital wheat gluten. It’s been used in food for centuries but only recently—within the last several decades—has it been used to replicate meat at a commercial level. 

There are several elements of seitan that make it an excellent chicken substitute. First, it is high in protein. While it doesn’t have the same protein levels as regular chicken, it does contain more protein than other common meat replacements like tofu. And, seitan has less saturated fat and overall fat than chicken.

Second, the consistency of seitan is very close to meat. It’s very chewy and has a density—much like a portabella mushroom—that almost tricks you into thinking you’re biting a piece of chicken. Almost being the operative word here—carnivores can often spot the difference immediately, but for vegetarians who haven’t eaten meat in a while, the likeness is uncanny.

What’s in vegan chicken besides seitan?

Seitan is gluten, which is the protein that is found in grains like wheat, rye, or barley. It is not uncommon for vegan chicken to include proteins from other plants.

For example, you can make vegan meat with soy protein. Soy protein is present in anything made from the soybean plant: tofu, tempeh, soy milk, etc. In a similar process to seitan, soy protein is extracted from a flour made from the soybean plant and it also contains relatively high protein levels. 

Other plant proteins from peas and mushroom roots are also finding their way into the vegan chicken business. Every brand of vegan chicken will have its own recipe and will usually advertise it on their packaging. But the overall label category these fall under is “plant-based.”

How is vegan chicken made?

The process for making vegan chicken has more in common with making bread than chopping up a bird. It always starts with the production of some sort of plant protein, whether it be seitan or soy protein or something else. At the commercial level, this process is often simplified by just rehydrating a textured vegetable protein, meaning that the plant protein production was previously created, and the factory is just combining it with water.

Plain plant protein is quite mild in taste, so the next step is seasoning. This step can include anything from an assortment of oils to spices like onion powder, garlic powder, and yeast. After thoroughly mixing all these ingredients together, the resulting product resembles a dough. It is formed into patties or nuggets then packaged for sale.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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