Why KFC's Plant-Based Nuggets Aren't Actually Vegan

Amid increased demand for meat alternatives, many fast-food restaurants have been trying out their own versions of plant-based fan favorites. Perhaps best known is Burger King's Impossible Whopper, identical to the regular Whopper other than its soy leghemoglobin patty.

Since the introduction of the Impossible Whopper, other plant-based foods have hit the market. White Castle and Carl's Jr. also added meatless burgers to their menus. Subway welcomed plant-based meatballs; McDonald's, plant-based patties; and Del Taco, alternative proteins in its tacos and burritos (via Taste of Home). In 2022, KFC debuted plant-based fried chicken.

While these menu expansions are much needed, they are only a small step closer to being truly vegetarian and vegan friendly. Even though all of these new plant-based items seem to be great choices for vegetarians and vegans, that's not quite the case due to the very nature of fast-food restaurants. That's right — if you're on a vegan diet, you should probably avoid KFC's plant-based chicken. 

Meatless items share the same kitchen spaces

Typically when we hear the phrase "cross-contamination," we think of germs and raw foods. However, this concept also applies to so-called meatless menu options. Take the Impossible Whopper, for example. Although it is vegetarian and is made with a plant-based burger patty, the patty is still cooked on the same grill as the regular beef patties.

It's the same story with KFC's plant-based chicken. Yes, the chicken nuggets are based on soy and wheat proteins, says the KFC website, but the nuggets are all cooked in the same fryer as meat ones. This cross-contamination renders the plant-based nuggets non-vegetarian and non-vegan.

Newsweek notes that the nuggets may be suitable for individuals who are flexible about eating vegetarian or vegan or for those who are trying to cut back on meat consumption rather than avoid it entirely. For the plant-based chicken to be vegetarian and vegan friendly, it would need to be cooked in a separate fryer from the regular chicken.