A new microwavable fake chicken breast is on its way from the makers of meme-famous Nuggs. The alternative meat startup Simulate plans to launch the new product in some two dozen New York grocery stores on July 7th. Curious consumers outside of the Big Apple will also be able to buy the stuff online on Simulate’s website at $2.99 a piece.
Simulate similarly launched its plant-based chicken nuggets, Nuggs, online in 2018 before offering it in stores in 2021. (The Verge was there for the ride.) Since then, the market for plant-based meat alternatives has slumped. Now, Simulate’s trying to beat the odds with an easy-to-prepare product and seemingly more serious branding than it came to be known for with Nuggs.
You can zap the individually wrapped and seasoned breasts in the microwave for about a minute and eat them out of the package. And for now, it’s just called “Simulate Chicken Breast,” although Simulate founder Ben Pasternak says that could change in the future.
The memes are gone — the company deleted all the photos on its Nuggs Instagram account. When Simulate shared a photo of its forthcoming fake chicken breast on its new Instagram account, it got comments like, “I can’t tell if this is a meme” and “where did all the memes go?”
“I love that question,” Pasternak tells The Verge. “The memes, I guess it feels like we outgrew them.” Apparently, the memes were going viral on social media but not getting more people to buy Nuggs.
“The TLDR is that the entire [alternative meat] space is kind of in some trouble,” Pasternak tells The Verge. “I think it’s happening because the products are not good enough or compelling enough to people who regularly eat animal based meat.”
The health argument for plant-based meat, since it tends to be heavily processed, is debatable, Pasternak admits. Plant-based alternatives can have a smaller environmental impact than beef or chicken. But there’s a good chance you’d get more bang for your buck by just eating plain old vegetables. So the edge Simulate hopes to have, especially with this new product, is convenience.
I taste-tested the breast yesterday for lunch and, as a meat-eater with an unfortunate affinity for processed foods, it sufficed. It’s seasoned sort of like a rotisserie chicken I might buy at the grocery store when I don’t have time to cook, and it smells like one, too. I scarfed it down at home with some quickly stir-fried vegetables before rushing into a virtual meeting. So I can see how this makes sense when you don’t have much time to cook — much less savor your food.
I will say the texture of this breast is… interesting. Simulate says it developed its own process to spin plant protein into fibers inspired by how the textile industry spins cotton into thread. Apparently, this involves dissolving plant protein (mostly from soy) in a water-based solvent and then drawing that protein solution through showerheads into another solution that solidifies it. The process allows Simulate to fashion a thicker cut of alternative meat than it could otherwise — and when you cut into it, the fibers sort of mimic the stringy parts of a chicken breast.
Chewing it, though, still reminds me of extra firm tofu.