KFC has hopped onto the vegan burger bandwagon with its Original Recipe Vegan Burger - a Quorn fillet coated in the famously mysterious 11 herbs and spices, perched on a bed of lettuce, and served on a vegan mayo smeared bun. Obviously we had to try it, what with it being Veganuary, and weigh in with our highly subjective opinion on whether or not it's tasty.
The burger is heralded as the long-awaited alternative to the classic KFC Fillet Burger dreamed up by the Colonel in 1952 (so says the site) which is so confident in its tastiness that it's served with the bare minimum of culinary accompaniments: a bit of lettuce, some mayo, and a sesame seed-topped bun . The vegan version has only taken 68 years to hit the menu, but swaps out the chicken and mayonnaise for a Quorn fillet and vegan mayo. And it's not just any old Quorn fillet. It's a "bespoke vegan Quorn fillet, which is coated in the Colonel’s iconic blend of 11 herbs and spices." So in theory, the bulk of the flavour profile should taste pretty much the same.
Pretty obvious which one's which, but Quorn is on the left, chicken on the right.
Unlike Burger King's Impossible Whopper (currently a US exclusive which I reviewed while I was over there), there are no grand claims of this fooling anyone into thinking they're eating chicken. It's Quorn and it shows. Flip up the buns and you can see the difference immediately. The coating on the chicken is textured with crunchy and crispy bits that will oftentimes break away from the fillet, ready to be hoovered up later. It's reminiscent of chowing down on a piece of battered fish and going back for the tiny golden nuggets that inevitably fall off as you're munching your way through it. Such pastimes are absent from the vegan burger, with the coating being somewhat less satisfying on the texture-front. You can see how tightly the coating conforms to the fillet in the photo, and there's no bubbly pockets of batter for a spot of gnawing. It's vaguely crisp, which is fine, and if you've ever had a Quorn fillet before, you'll be familiar with the way it clings to the 'meat'.
Cross section of both burgers, with no teeth marks.
Comparing the fillets themselves, there's a world of difference in the consistency which is to be expected. The Colonel isn't in a lab somewhere trying to make synthetic chicken breasts to palm off onto the public, after all. One is a moist, meaty, fillet of chicken and the other hasn't been shorn off a dead bird, meaning it isn't as moist - although that's not to say it it's unpleasantly dry by any stretch. The texture is pretty decent for a chicken substitute, but it breaks down a lot faster - even just when smushed between your fingers. Not something I usually do with my food, mind you, but it's not as dense as chicken and doesn't retain its structure as much - probably why Greggs opted for Quorn mince in its Vegan Steak Bake rather than attempting to have faux streak pieces struggling to keep their shit together in a pastry case full of gravy.
You'll be pleased to know that I did actually get around to eating them, and that the vegan burger wasn't half bad. The batter wasn't as crunchy or crispy, and the fillet was lacking in moisture, but the vegan mayo was the hero in that department, stepping up to provide some much-needed lubricant. I didn't actually realise I was eating vegan mayo until I took a gander at the website afterwards - not as stupid as it sounds given that Burger King serves up its Impossible Burger with normal mayo. So 10/10 for the mayo, easy. What was disappointing was the overwhelming taste of pepper. The burger is supposed to have the same 11 herbs and spice mix as its clucky counterpart, so what the hell is that about? The last time I ate Quorn products with any regularity, the variety was somewhat limited and they always tasted really peppery - but that was usually (I assumed) because it was part of the flavour - like lemon and pepper, or some other bullshit designed to make it more palatable. You know that scene in Ratatouille, when food critic Anton Ego takes the famous bite that transports him back to the comforting memory of his childhood? Imagine that, but with a sad Quorn fillet around an equally sad kitchen table instead. Again, it wasn't so peppery as to be inedible, but it did set it apart on the flavour front from the standard chicken fillet. Calorie-wise, the chicken Fillet Burger comes in at 475 calories while the vegan burger is 450.
Gross, stringy, chicken goo that put me off the rest of the burger.
There's one area, however, that the veggie/ vegan option will always win out for me. You're never going to find shit like this in them. If you consider my preference for meat without gristle, gelatinous globules, or those weird little veins in it as fussy, then crown me Queen of the Fusspots and move along. Any of those things are enough to turn my stomach and make me stop eating whatever I was happily wolfing down moments before. There's nothing worse than enjoying a tasty snack and having it ruined halfway through, and sometimes I'm just not in the mood to risk it. In fact the last time I got KFC, I swapped the chicken out for hash browns. So of course, this happened with my chicken burger. That might not be a big deal for most people, but I boxed that back up and it went straight in the bin. Maaaybe I'd have eaten around it if I'd ordered one meal like a normal person, and I was hungry enough to look past it, but I was almost two burgers in at this stage on a belly full of Friday night cocktails. It had to go.
In short, the vegan option is tasty, but a bit of a letdown when it comes to the coating - but it's par for the course when compared to any other Quorn fillet. It's weirdly peppery, given that it's supposed to taste the same as the chicken option with the exception of the meat, and while it's not as moist, you won't really notice what with all of the delicious vegan mayo which was the most impressive thing about the entire thing. And of course, it gets bonus points for not having gooey stringy bits in it. Pop a hash brown in there and I'd happily order that over the real thing.