Meatless chicken can be made from a variety of bases, perhaps none more popular than cauliflower—which serves as a trusty vegan substitute for chicken wings every Super Bowl Sunday. This year, the humble cauliflower is pulling double-duty as meatless chicken in Chick-Fil-A’s first-ever vegetarian sandwich.
Starting on February 13, the major chicken chain will unveil the Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich, made with cauliflower that is marinated and breaded in the original Chick-fil-A signature seasoning (which contains milk and dairy), pressure-cooked and paired with two dill pickle chips and served between toasted buns.
“Cauliflower is the hero of our new sandwich, and it was inspired by our original Chick-fil-A Chicken Sandwich,” Leslie Neslage, director of menu and packaging at Chick-fil-A, said in a statement. “Guests told us they wanted to add more vegetables into their diets, and they wanted a plant-forward entrée that tasted uniquely Chick-fil-A.”
“Our new sandwich is made with the highest-quality ingredients and whole vegetables, and we hope it offers customers another reason to dine at Chick-fil-A,” Neslage said.
Next week, the new vegetarian sandwich will hit Chick-fil-A locations for a limited time in three test markets: Denver, CO; Charleston, SC; and North Carolina’s Greensboro-Triad region.
Making Chick-fil-A’s first meatless chicken sandwich
Over the years, Chick-fil-A has acquired a reputation for many things but vegetarian food has not been one of them, until now.
The chicken chain invested heavily in the development of its new Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich which it says took nearly four years to perfect, meaning chefs and recipe testers worked throughout the pandemic to get the sandwich recipe right.
“We explored every corner of the plant-based space in search of the perfect centerpiece for our plant-forward entrée,” Stuart Tracy, culinary developer of the Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich, said in a statement. “Time and time again, we kept returning to cauliflower as the base of our sandwich.”
“After a significant amount of development, we knew we had a one-of-a-kind entrée; one that puts a delicious spin on what we’re known for—great tasting food with ingredients you can trust,” Tracy said.
The sandwich is in its test launch phase, during which time companies typically focus on gaining copious amounts of data before expanding the test or launching nationally. This means that while the current iteration of the Chick-fil-A Cauliflower Sandwich contains animal-derived ingredients the final version could change based on consumer feedback.
Cauliflower enters the chicken wars
Chick-fil-A has been at war with Popeye’s for years, with each chain one-upping each other with a new chicken sandwich that they hope becomes all the rage. The casualties in this war are chickens, who are slaughtered in mind-boggling numbers on polluting factory farms to keep up with this charade.
Chick-fil-A’s exploration of meatless chicken options comes at a time when the pandemic continues to shed light on just how vulnerable the animal agriculture industry is to supply disruptions. Currently, the chicken industry is facing a historic egg shortage brought on by the longest avian flu outbreak on record. While plants like cauliflower are not impervious to supply chain disruptions, they are immune from contracting zoonotic diseases.
Other fast-food chains are slowly exploring the plant-based chicken space to future-proof their businesses, as well. Last year, Burger King also tested its first meatless chicken sandwich in partnership with Impossible Foods—a partnership that began with the launch of the Impossible Whopper in 2019.
Burger King tested the Original Chick’n Sandwich in Cincinnati, OH area locations in August. A meatless take of its classic chicken sandwich, this version was made with Impossible Foods’ new Impossible Chicken Patties made from Plants and could be ordered fully plant-based by omitting the mayonnaise.
Overseas, major chains are far more proactive in introducing plant-based chicken options, including Burger King. The chain has been testing plant-based options with its European supplier The Vegetarian Butcher at meatless pop-ups for two years. This has resulted in major menu updates, including vegan versions of classics such as The Long Chicken, in several markets. The fast-food chain also works with The Not Company in South America where its AI-perfected vegan chicken has been gracing the menu since last summer.
One of Chick-fil-A’s top competitors, KFC, has also gotten into vegan chicken. While it dabbled in adding Beyond Fried Chicken to its US menus for a limited time last year, the vegan chicken option did not stick around permanently. However, in the United Kingdom, KFC serves a vegan burger made with Quorn’s meatless chicken filet breaded in the Colonel’s famous 11 herbs and spices.