If we told you three years ago that fast food restaurants would be clamouring to add vegan food items to their menus, you’d have laughed. "How could KFC, one of the biggest contributors to animal cruelty ever, make a vegan burger?" you might have asked. "Why would Greggs, the home of miscellaneous-meat-in-roll-form, ever bow to the demands of vegetarians?"
But on Monday the 17th of June, KFC launched the trial run of its vegan "Imposter Burger" – a Quorn chicken fillet battered in its famous "11 herbs and spices" mix, served in a glazed bun with lettuce and vegan mayonnaise. Rumours of the burger began just over a year ago, and the bun and fillet are now finally in our hands.
While it's superb to have more crap-eating opportunities as a vegan, sourcing KFC’s new burger is easier said than done. As outlined in KFC’s press release, the Imposter Burger is only on sale at select stores in Bristol, Birmingham and, inexplicably, a service station on the M6. One London outlet will sell the vegan creation: the branch in Gloucester Road, an area familiar with anyone who was reluctantly dragged to the Natural History Museum as a kid.
Anyway, in order to give a fair review of the burger, we sent vegetarian staff writer Ruby Lott-Lavigna, who has been cultivating a five-year-long craving for chicken, and Nana Baah, meat-eating staff writer and harbourer of a questionable reliance on KFC chicken. Here is everything you need to know.
Vegetarian verdict: The batter on fried chicken is God's way of saying "sorry" for us occasionally having to suffer through wifi outages or UTIs. Indeed, about four times a month I consider how ethical it would be, as a vegetarian, to buy a family bucket of KFC chicken, peel the crispy, succulent batter off a drumstick as if it were a cheese-string, and shove it into my mouth in one.
KFC’s vegan burger doesn’t disappoint – but there’s room for improvement. The fillet has a thin layer of batter (somewhat overhyped in the official pics), but the taste is impressive. The spices (all 11 of them) are present, resulting in a salty and flavoursome batter. However, KFC’s press release also promises "taste, crunch and succulence", but as a vegetarian I’ve had far crunchier vegan batter (at Temple of Seitan, for example). Taste here exceeds texture, which is good but not perfect.
Meat-eater verdict: I’d like to make it clear now that I have eaten KFC six times this month already, so I am almost too accustomed to the secret herb and spice batter. Sadly, the vegan version doesn’t taste like a standard KFC burger should – something about the level of spice just isn’t right. Kind of like when you order a Coke, but on that first sip realise you have, in fact, been served a disappointing glass of Pepsi.
THE FAKE CHICKEN PATTY
Vegetarian verdict: Having eaten meat for 21 years of my life, sucking on spicy wings from my early youth, I can obviously still remember what chicken tastes like, though it is a vague memory. KFC’s Quorn version is great: the flavour isn’t overtly "faux chicken", more a tender slate on which to build flavour. It has a great texture, and I suspect is slightly juicier than your regular dry chicken breast after it has been run through a deep-fryer.
Meat-eater verdict: One of the most important aspects of fried chicken, from burgers to chicken-on-the-bone, is that it must be appropriately greasy. Most chicken burgers are made from processed chicken breast, which is notoriously dry. Somehow, this fake chicken is more succulent than any other KFC burger I’ve tried. My fingers have the desired light layer of grease on them. I am at peace.
THE WHOLE GODDAMN THING
Vegetarian verdict: A huge vibe. Not quite enough mayo to really loosen it all, but the simple set-up of bun, lettuce and fake chicken is uncomplicated and delicious in a way that doesn’t needlessly mess around with the burger as a ~concept~. In terms of price, £2.99 for an (in my opinion) snack-sized burger seems fine, but for full satisfaction I'd need a little more.
Meat-eater verdict: Scent is one of the most important factors when it comes to food; it can conjure up past memories and tap into deeply held emotions. For example, the sweet smell of KFC reminds me of the time I bet my mum that I could eat an entire Bargain Bucket and succeeded. The Imposter Burger transported me back there and, for that, I love it.
GIMMICKS TO MAKE YOU BUY THE BURGER/MARKETING
Vegetarian verdict: If you compare The Imposter Burger’s launch with Greggs' vegan sausage roll drop earlier this year, the fanfare is far smaller. While the VSR came in mock-iPhone packaging, delivered straight to the offices of notable food lovers, KFC's vegan patty didn’t exactly "drop" – it quietly fell to the floor of a retail park in Tamworth. We did bump into a few people making a pilgrimage to try the Imposter Burger, but the shop had no signage, no inflatable burger welcoming the new item, no tech-house DJ to highlight that the menu item had landed. Instead, there were just a few labourers looking confused about the people taking photos of their lunch on a DSLR.
Meat-eater verdict: I had no idea this was happening. I just turned up to work and overheard my colleagues talking about it. So, word of mouth, I guess.
CAPITALISM FACTOR: HOW LIKELY ARE YOU TO RETURN?
Vegetarian verdict: High, if the burger eventually comes to all KFCs, because as if I'm ever travelling to Gloucester Road again. I don’t actually know where most KFCs are, as I have been avoiding them to lessen the risk of a naughty wing purchase in a moment of weakness, but if I happen to be at an M6 service station or in close proximity to a restaurant, I would happily drop £3 on this, even just for a mid-afternoon snack.
Ultimately, the Imposter Burger has got me craving the real thing. A gateway burger, if you will. Perhaps this was KFC's idea all along?
Meat-eater verdict: I want another as soon as I take the last bite – which is rare for me after a trip to KFC. So, please vegan sir, may I have some more?