What part of the chicken, exactly, does the “tender” come from? Yeah, I don’t know, either; I don’t eat factory-farmed chicken, so when I process a chicken I’ve raised, I’m eating the whole bird. Choosing to eat plant-based meals, though, allows me additional choices for occasional convenience foods, like chick’n tenders. This time, it’s Gardein’s Seven Grain Crispy Tenders.
First, let’s talk about setting expectations for meat analogs. Mine are that an analog resemble a meat item like a chicken tender in appearance and texture, but not necessarily flavor. I know it’s not meat, that it’s not going to have precisely the same savory meatiness – umami – but it can still be a reasonable facsimile even in flavor. What I don’t want is a processed product that’s been stuffed with unhealthy ingredients in the pursuit of making it taste as “meatlike” as possible. From that perspective, I can enjoy a meat analog while not expecting it to be exactly like meat.
Right out of the package, the tenders closely resemble breaded chicken strips in size, weight, and appearance. After baking (they fit perfectly into the toaster oven), they were golden and crunchy. We chose to eat them on wraps, with a little Vegenaise and Romaine lettuce.
They are as advertised: crispy, with a chewy, meaty interior. They even look like a breaded chicken tender. Did they taste like chicken? That depends on what kind of chicken they’re being measured against. Commercially-raised broilers processed at 8 weeks and assembled into “tenders”? Maybe. Pasture-raised chicken processed at 20+ weeks? Nope. But, with the understanding that this product isn’t going to taste exactly like chicken, they’re completely enjoyable and satisfying. Honestly, I think they could be served at a gathering with some dipping sauces and attendees wouldn’t pick up on them being meatless.
I’ll gladly tuck into these tenders again. Gardein makes a number of other meatless products, and I’m looking forward to trying them – especially the fishless options. As a fish and seafood fan, I’m very curious about how a fish analog is going to taste. Stay tuned!