Vegan chicken is an increasingly popular protein choice. Many consumers are moving away from animal products and toward plant-based alternatives. People are ditching animal products to mitigate the effects of climate change, improve their health, and to save the lives of millions of animals.
Poultry is the second most widely consumed meat in the world, and chicken is the most common type of poultry. According to a paper written by Carys Bennett at the University of Leicester, the total number of farmed chickens now exceeds that of all other birds on the planet.
Many consumers view chicken as a preferable alternative to red meat due to its relatively reduced carbon footprint and nutritional benefits.
The number of vegans and vegetarians around the world is growing. And the rising number of flexitarians and curious meat-eaters are creating a mainstream demand for vegan products. According to recent Nielsen data, around 98 percent of those who buy meat-alternatives frequently also regularly purchase animal products and meat.
So what’s wrong with eating “real” chicken?
What’s Wrong With “Real” Chicken?
Approximately 2.5 million broiler chickens are slaughtered for meat every day in the UK. According to the British animal-rights organization Viva! — that’s approximately 30 deaths every second. Broiler chickens are bred to grow more quickly than they would naturally, and to a much larger size.
According to Compassion in World Farming, intensively farmed chickens are often slaughtered younger than six weeks old. Free-range animals are usually slaughtered at eight weeks while organic broilers are often killed at 12 weeks. In natural conditions, chickens can live for six or more years.
Chickens are naturally social animals and can communicate with each other using complex and subtle vocalizations. The birds can distinguish between more than 100 faces of other members of their species. According to international animal-rights organization, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), this makes a chicken’s memories similar to that of an elephant’s.
Globally, around 70 percent of broiler chickens are raised using intensive industrial farming techniques. This means that more than two-thirds of the world’s broiler chickens experience overcrowding, dirty surroundings, and extremely rapid growth. Ammonia produced by droppings can burn the birds’ eyes, legs, and respiratory system. Many chickens also experience stress, injury, and sometimes death during transport.
Chicken farming does produce much less CO2 than beef and pork. However, because chicken farming concentrates such large numbers of animals in confined areas, there is an extreme impact on the local environment. Droppings, sick birds, disease, and feed additives all impact the surrounding area.
There is also the human cost of chicken production. Websites such as “Chickieleaks” document the impact of chicken farming on workers. Chickieleaks points out that some of the largest companies in the chicken industry have violated environmental, human safety, and advertising laws.
What Is Vegan Chicken?
As plant-based alternatives become more popular, there are more products such as vegan chicken on the market. Any plant-based food replacing traditional chicken can be referred to as “vegan chicken.”
Seitan is particularly popular for its particularly meat-like qualities. Seitan is primarily made using vital wheat gluten. It can be prepared and seasoned to emulate animal-based chicken. It is often used for fried-chicken recipes and in fast-food.
Many different companies now produce soy, wheat, mycoprotein, or blended meat substitutes. These substitutes vary widely in flavor, texture, appearance, and application, ranging from chicken nuggets to hyper-realistic “roasted” chicken pieces.
However, vegan chicken isn’t necessarily a close approximation of the animal product. Many recipes use tofu or plant-based whole foods like mushrooms as a replacement for chicken.
Mushrooms are often used for this purpose when making pies, pasties, stews, soups, or even fried chicken. Other popular chicken substitutes include jackfruit, cauliflower, tempeh, eggplant, or even beans.
Looking for the best vegan fried chicken sandwiches? Check out this guide to all the veggie options that rival Popeyes and KFC.
What Does Vegan Chicken Taste Like?
Vegan chicken can be extremely diverse and there is a version of it to suit any taste or preference. Since chicken has a relatively mild, savory flavor, it can be simple to emulate with plant-based foods.
For consumers who want a meat alternative that is as close to animal products as possible, many companies are producing products that replicate animal-based chicken in this way. Products often use a combination of high-protein wheat gluten and soya to create a meat-like texture.
Recipes may suggest different ways of preparing ingredients to achieve a chicken-like texture and flavor. Tofu, for example, has an extremely neutral, natural flavor. One way of making it replicate chicken more closely is by buying a firm brand and pressing it well, to make it chewy and “meaty.”
Another easy way to replicate an animal product is by seasoning it as you would the meat, rather than trying to imitate the natural flavor itself. For example, using a classic Jamaican spice mix to make jerk tofu, or using sage, thyme, and tarragon when making a roast dinner.
This method works particularly well with vegan chicken, both because of its mild flavor and the prominent use of seasoning in many traditional preparations.
Vegan Chicken Ingredients
Vegan chicken is varied and can use several different combinations of ingredients. A typical seitan chicken recipe will contain vital wheat gluten, stock, and seasoning.
Some people choose to blend tofu, chickpea flour, or even sweet potato with their wheat gluten to adjust the texture of the final product. The seitan becomes increasingly chewy the longer the dough is kneaded.
Mixing in another ingredient can soften the texture, and tofu is a good choice when making chicken. Typical seasonings may be vegan-friendly Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, and dried garlic powder.
Tofu and whole vegetable-based chicken substitutes are simple in that they usually contain just the primary ingredient along with whatever you use for seasoning. Salt, pepper, garlic or onion powder, and fresh herbs are again all popular choices for flavoring mushrooms or tofu. Yeast extract and nutritional yeast are both also commonly included.
Shop bought vegan chicken will often contain similar ingredients to those suggested in recipes. Seasoning, herbs, and spices are all important for flavoring plant-based meats. Shop-bought products often blend of soya and wheat-gluten to maximize protein and create a product that is very close to animal-based meat.
Vegan Chicken Brands
There are now so many different companies producing vegan chicken that most consumers will be able to find one to suit their preferences. Vegan meat is the most popular plant-based product, according to The Good Food Institute (GFI) and the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA).
1. Beyond Meat
Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat produces hyper-realistic plant-based Grilled Chicken Strips primarily made with soy and pea protein. The strips are flavored with ingredients such as salt, hickory smoke, molasses, onion, paprika, and garlic.
2. Fry Family Foods
Two of Fry’s most popular products — the Schnitzels and nuggets — are alternatives to chicken. The family-owned business specializes in high-protein and “realistic” meat substitutes for flexitarians and anyone trying to reduce their meat consumption.
British company Quorn has been producing vegetarian products from fermented, mushroom-like fungus called mycoprotein. While original products used egg as a binder, many modern Quorn products use vegan-friendly potato.
Gardein is one of North America’s most popular vegan-meat brands. Sales have quadrupled over the last four years and it is the second-largest meat-free brand behind MorningStar Farms. Gardein sells chick’n scallopini, sliders, tenders, teriyaki strips, and wings.
Vivera Foodgroup was one of the first companies in the world to entirely remove meat from its lineup. The group now only owns meat-free companies, including Vivera, Culifrost, and Dutch Tofu Company. Vivera’s extremely meat-like chicken pieces contain 19g of protein per 100g serving.
6. MorningStar Farms
In 2018 MorningStar Farms updated three of its best-selling vegetarian chicken products to a vegan recipe. The Kellogs-owned company’s Buffalo Wings, Chik’n Nuggets, and Buffalo Chik Patties are all 100 percent plant-based.
7. Alpha Foods
Alpha Foods specializes in pre-prepared, plant-based products that are GMO-free. Popular items include meaty pot pies, a chik’n burger, grilled chik’n strips, original chik’n nuggets.
8. May Wah
May Wah is a New York City-based vegan alternative market and distributor. The company sells a “Chik’n Craze Sampler” complete with all best-selling chicken items. It includes nuggets, shredded chicken, roasted salted chicken, steak, lemon chicken, sugar cane legs, and even a whole white chicken.
Swedish company Oumph! has been making hyper-realistic vegan meat since 2014. Oumph! produces several chicken products, including The Chunk, Pulled Oumph!, and a spiced chicken-style kebab mix.
10. Sweet Earth
Nestlé owned Sweet Earth produces a variety of plant-based proteins in the U.S. In the EU, similar products are made by Nestlé subsidiary Garden Gourmet. Both companies sell vegan alternatives to poultry, with Mindful Chik’n strips by Sweet Earth and Fillet Pieces by Garden Gourmet.
11. Rebellyous Foods
Rebellyous Foods specialize in plant-based chicken alternatives. “No harm, no fowl,” reads the official website. The company produces nuggets, patties, and strips that cook just like traditional breaded chicken products. Rebellyous chicken contains 20-30 percent more protein than conventional nuggets.
New Zealand-based Sunfed produces “clean lean plant-protein.” The company makes vegan chicken and other meats out of yellow pea protein, fiber, rice bran oil, and pumpkin. According to the brand, the vegan version tastes “just like animal meat” and is “better than the real thing.”
13. Linda McCartney
British brand Linda McCartney Foods has been producing vegetarian products for nearly 30 years. Plant-based chicken products include Southern Style Chicken chunks and pulled chicken.
According to the company, Lightlife “has been the plant-based protein pioneer” for over 40 years. Lightlife’s plant-based tenders are popular with consumers and the company now provides fried chicken to KFC Canada.
15. No Evil Foods
According to No Evil, “Comrade Cluck” vegan chicken is perfect for stir fry, curry, pot pie, chicken salad, slathered in buffalo sauce, slow-cooked pot roast, stick-to-your-ribs chicken & dumplings, and deli sandwiches.
Naturli’ “Chick-Free” vegan chicken is a 1:1 alternative to poultry made from peas. According to the brand it is high protein, high fiber, and contains both B Complex and vitamin C.
“Don’t be chicken,” says Nuggs on its official website. The company produces 100 percent plant-based nuggets that are “more advanced” than animal-based versions.
18. Dr. Praeger’s Chick’n Tenders
These chicken tenders are produced from “pea protein and veggies.” Dr. Praeger produces chicken using avocado oil and non-GMO verified ingredients and each piece contains 14g plant-protein.
This! produce hyper-realistic plant-based meat products including vegan chicken. One serving of 100g contains 36 percent of your RDA of protein and 20 percent of your iron and B12.
Boca’s “Spicy Chik’n Veggie Patties” are 100 percent vegan and high protein. Boca uses non-GMO soy to make its chicken burgers. According to the brand, they are “packed with 12g of protein and 130 calories.”
21. Wholesome Provisions
“Just Like Chicken” is made with just one ingredient. Wholesome Provisions makes this plant-based chicken alternative from textured vegetable protein.
22. Vegetarian Plus
Vegetarian Plus is a line of vegetarian and vegan ready meals. The brand produces several vegan chicken-based options including drumsticks, tikka masala, ginger chicken, and even a vegan half chicken.
23. Earth Grown
Vegetarian brand Earth Grown has released chickenless tenders, patties, and strips. The line of products is available from Aldi stores in the U.S. and also includes veggie, bean, kale, and quinoa burgers.
24. Earth’s Best
These meatless Chik’n nuggets are non-GMO and Organic. They are also high in protein and a good source of iron and B vitamins. Earth’s Best includes them in its range of foods for growing children.
25. Field Roast
Field Roast produces vegan “Fruffalo Wings” made out of its trademark sausage products. The plant-based producer also sells a “Celebration Roast” that is similar in appearance and seasoning to a poultry-based roast.
26. Improved Nature
Self-proclaimed plant-forward brand Improved Nature produces several vegan chicken products. Nuggets, tenders, filets, and large filets are available from select ShopRite Supermarkets in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut.
27. Unreal Co.
Unreal Co Australia produces plant-based chicken for distributors including Woolworths. The line includes burger patties, pieces, schnitzel, and nuggets. The company also sells “Meaty-Mix,” a versatile powdered protein. Meaty Mix can be mixed with water and other ingredients to create vegan meat.
28. Foods for Tomorrow
Spanish start-up company Foods for Tomorrow produces vegan chicken as part of its Heura line. The company sells original, spiced, and Mediterranean flavor chunks, as well as spiced tacos and original strips.
29. Rügenwalder Mühle
German company Rügenwalder Mühle produces both plant-based and animal-based meat products. Chicken-style vegan items include filets, schnitzels, strips, and nuggets.
30. Squeaky Bean
According to Squeaky Bean, all of the company’s products are 100 percent “dirty vegan.” The brand makes a popular satay kiev and chicken nuggets.
31. Vegetarian Butcher
The Vegetarian Butcher is a Nederlands-based, Unilever-owned producer of plant-based meat. The company sells chilled chicken pieces, burgers, and shawarma, as well as frozen pieces, nuggets, and burgers.
Several supermarkets produce own-brand and private label vegan chicken. British online supermarket Ocado sells vegan chicken-style pieces, nuggets, and escalopes.
In the UK, Asda sells vegan KFC-style popcorn chicken. The crispy-coated chicken is a good source of protein and available from the frozen section. The supermarket also stocks private-label, plant-based chicken pieces.
British supermarket Morrisons sells vegan chicken is part of its line of party-food. “Meat-free chicken-style skewers” are made from marinated soy chunks and available in packs of 10.
Waitrose sells a variety of branded vegan chicken products as well as its own-brand chicken-style soya pieces. The chunks are marinated in garlic and chili and perfect for stir-frys.
Tesco’s meat-free chicken-style pieces are 100 percent vegan. The supermarket also stocks high-protein, plant-based chicken nuggets.
British brand the Co-Op sells meat-free chicken-style “poppers.” These vegan popcorn-chicken style nuggets are 100 percent vegan and covered in a crispy “Southern fried” coating.
Iceland recently expanded its line of vegan options to include “No-Chick” chicken-style products. The supermarket sells frozen chicken burger fillets, nuggets, and strips.
How to Cook With Vegan Chicken
Cooking with vegan chicken can be extremely simple. Tofu, seitan, and mushroom all require slightly different preparation methods.
Vegan meat alternatives like chicken are particularly helpful for those who want to cut down on their meat consumption without re-learning how to cook. Creating a direct replacement for chicken means that people can swap out meat for plants without altering the way they shop, cook, or enjoy food.
The easiest way of cooking with vegan chicken is to buy something ready-to-eat, such as Quorn or Tofurky’s refrigerated products. These are a versatile 1:1 replacement for cooked chicken. Cooking tofu is a learned skill, but with some practice can also be extremely easy to use.
Vegan Chicken Recipes
From seitan to mushrooms, here are some of our favorite vegan chicken recipes. Each one comes with detailed and straightforward instructions, perfect for new flexitarians or seasoned vegans alike.
1. Oyster Mushroom Chicken and Waffles
This cruelty-free recipe for double-breaded oyster mushrooms and fluffy waffles looks just like a traditional dish. The mushrooms make this recipe for vegan chicken extra juicy.
Check it out here.
2. Vegan Parmigiana with Seitan Cutlets
The author of this recipe says that the chick’n in this dish doesn’t have a strong “mock meat flavour or texture,” perhaps due to the inclusion of cannellini beans in the seitan mix.
Check it out here.
3. Seitan Chicken Chalupa Wrap
This seitan recipe uses chickpea flour along with vital wheat gluten. It also uses the versatile flavors of Worcestershire sauce, nutritional yeast, onion, and garlic powder.
Check it out here.
4. Tofu Chicken Kiev
This recipe for chicken kiev uses well-pressed tofu. “The creamy garlic butter is absorbed all the way through the tofu,” says the author. “And the bread crumb topping adds a tasty crunch.”
Check it out here.
5. Cauliflower Chik’n and Waffles with Sriracha
This recipe calls for a whole food, cauliflower replacement for traditional poultry. It is succulent, buttery, and served with Sriracha maple syrup for extra flavor.
Check it out here.
6. Vegan Chicken
This seitan chicken recipe uses wheat-gluten, chickpeas, nutritional yeast, garlic powder, and onion powder. The “perfect chewy seitan texture” is achieved by mixing the chickpeas in with the seitan.
Check it out here.
7. Realistic Vegan Chicken
This tender and fibrous vegan chicken is made using a combination of seitan, tofu, and green jackfruit. The tofu and jackfruit add tenderness and “realistic” texture closer to that of traditional chicken.
Check it out here.
8. Plant-Based Chicken Breast
For this recipe, the author uses silken tofu to create a chicken-like texture. Boullion’s No Chicken stock is a central component of this recipe thanks to its unique flavor.
Check it out here.
9. Portabello Kiev
This kiev is actually a portabello mushroom. Assemble it hours before cooking and serve with garlic and cashew bechamel.
Check it out here.
10. Chik’n Caesar Salad
This caesar salad skips eggs, dairy, and traditional chicken. Instead, the recipe uses well-pressed and shallow fried tofu with raw cashew-based parm.
Check it out here.
11. Tofu Makhani
This tofu makhani is comparable to chicken tikka masala and is perfect for anyone missing the British-Indian fusion curry. This creamy dish makes use of vegan alternatives such as non-dairy cream and butter.
Check it out here.