The Unlikely Connection Between The Royal Family And McDonald's Chicken Nuggets

Soft and juicy on the inside, yet crispy on the outside, chicken nuggets are an American staple. In fact, chicken consumption is on the rise, according to Axios. When you think of chicken nuggets, perhaps you think of McDonald's chicken nuggets, also known as Chicken McNuggets.

McDonald's chicken nuggets have been a top seller for the food chain. They're so popular, they're even recognizable by their four distinct shapes. According to a YouTube video posted by McDonald's Canada, Chicken McNuggets come in four shapes: the ball, the bell, the boot, and the bowtie. Insider explains that the nuggets come in these particular shapes in order to "ensure consistent cooking times."

Throughout the years, McDonald's had rolled out various versions of its chicken nuggets. Halal chicken nuggets were once available at two Michigan locations, per USA Today. In 2020, McDonald's introduced spicy Chicken McNuggets, which were brought back last year. And who can forget when McDonald's offered 50-piece nuggets? Whether you're dunking regular or spicy McNuggets, who can you thank for creating the beloved menu item?

McDonald's chicken nuggets were invented by a royal chef

Despite being one of the most recognizable offerings, McDonald's chicken nuggets are only a few decades old. McNuggets first appeared on the food chain's menu in 1981 and went nationwide in 1983. The person behind the iconic chicken nuggets is none other than René Arend, a chef who has cooked for Queen Elizabeth II, according to History.

Before crafting nuggets in the McDonald's kitchen, Arend was whipping up courses for royalty. In addition to Queen Elizabeth, he had cooked for the Monarchy of Belgium, as well as actors Cary Grant and Sophia Loren, according to a 1984 Morning Call article.

After working as an executive chef at the Whitehall Club, Arend wanted to "try something new" and began working at McDonald's in 1976, per Morning Call. It is there that he created the McNuggets' first rendition: a fried chicken breast covered in sauce. Arden experimented with figuring out the proper cooking and freezing time for the nuggets. The nuggets were well-received by the internal McDonald's team, but the chain wasn't able to mass-produce them. It was manufacturer Keystone Foods that then fine-crafted McDonald's chicken nuggets.

Since their roll-out, McDonald's chicken nuggets have remained popular with consumers — Olympian Usain Bolt ate 1,000 nuggets at the 2008 Olympics (via USA Today). It seems Arend correctly predicted this. "Chicken McNuggets will go on long after I am gone," he told Morning Call.

A beef scare popularized chicken nuggets

While René Arend is credited as the inventor of Chicken McNuggets, the true inventor of the nugget is food science professor Robert C. Baker. He invented the nuggets in a lab in 1963 by molding boneless pieces of chicken from ground-up meat, then encasing them in breading, per History. Baker's invention led him to be called the "George Washington Carver of chicken."

If it weren't for the "Red Meat Scare" during the late 20th century, chicken nuggets might not be as widely consumed today. In 1973, Congress recommended that Americans eat less red meat because of the risks of high cholesterol and heart disease associated with it. Smithsonian food historian Dr. Ashley Rose Young told History that "Americans started to have a fear of fat and fatty products like beef, milk and butter" and turned toward chicken as it was marketed as the "healthier alternative." Soon after, McDonald's worked to create a chicken item to capitalize on the chicken craze. It would be another 20 years, however, before someone invented dinosaur-shaped nuggets.