There’s no shortage of new faux food options. Long gone are the days when Boca Burgers and Tofurkey were the only choices for vegetarians and vegans looking for a suitable meat substitution. I used to be one of those people looking for plant-based meats; in my late teens and early 20s, I was a vegetarian and regularly cooked those products. Though I eat meat these days, I still find myself intrigued by plant-based alternatives to meat as I continue to crave Boca Burgers and eat vegetarian meals about half the time.
So, when Daring Foods, a new plant-based chicken substitute, offered to send me samples for review, I was certainly intrigued. There’s no shortage of beef substitutes on the shelves, and the plant-based sausages seem to be as plentiful as meat-based ones. But faux chicken still seems stuck in the last millennium.
A new entry, especially one with slick packaging and a promise that it has the taste and texture of chicken, is very welcome. Plus, according to Bloomberg, this product has been backed by vegetarian Grammy Award-winning musician and entrepreneur Drake. If it’s good enough for Drizzy, it’s good enough for me.
Daring Foods comes in four flavors: Original, Lemon & Herb, Cajun and Original Breaded Pieces. For this review, I tried two of these packs: Lemon & Herb and Original Breaded.
The first flavor I tried was the Lemon & Herbs pack. I’d made my latest obsession, garlic scape pesto, the evening before and had leftovers and figured, hey, even if the chicken isn’t my thing, pesto, cheese and pine nuts will make anything delicious!
When I opened the Daring package, I was surprised by the look of the pieces. They were very much pieces. They weren’t especially uniform and instead looked like homemade chicken tenders that had been seasoned, cooked, chopped haphazardly and flash-frozen. Thankfully, the pieces were all the same thickness, but the small and large pieces made me worry they’d cook unevenly.
That worry came true. When it came to cooking the pieces, I followed the instructions on the back of the bag: added a little vegetable oil to a small saute pan, turned the stove on and fried away.
The package recommended cooking them for 10 to 12 minutes, flipping occasionally, but I found it took about half of that amount of time before my pieces were “golden brown.” In fact, when I first flipped them after 2 or 3 minutes of cooking, the beginnings of a bit of burn were starting to form on some of the smaller pieces. I also found that like many frozen foods, the ice and oil did not agree, and there was a considerable amount of splatter.
I browsed the package quickly to see if this product was pre-cooked or not — like, how important were those 10 minutes? — and found no information about whether the product is safe to consume raw. In order to prevent my Daring from turning into a total crisp, I pulled them off the heat after about 6 minutes.
After I took the Daring pieces out of the pan, it was time for a taste test. It did taste like chicken in that it primarily reflected its seasonings. The lemon and herb taste was present but not overpowering, though I wouldn’t be mad if the lemon flavor was amped up even more — but I’m a total lemon head.
Now, what about that texture? Daring touts its ability for the meat to “pull” like real chicken, but I still found this to be more similar to other soy-based chick’n products. The outside was deliciously crispy, but the inside was a bit rubbery, and it was hard to take a bite of the pieces; you more or less had to eat the whole thing. They didn’t cut easily either, but this could be user error. My pieces were cooked.
Next, I tried the Original Breaded Pieces. The size of these pieces was still inconsistent. Some were the size of popcorn chicken, and others were the size of full-blown chicken tenders. But, this was less bothersome to me than the inconsistent size of the Lemon & Herbs pieces. I thought back to my days of buying frozen breaded chicken tenders, where this size variation is bound to happen.
It’s the dead middle of summer, and there’s no way in the world I’m turning on my oven for anything, so I opted to go a little rogue and cook my Original Breaded Pieces in my beloved air fryer.
I followed my air fryer’s instructions for frozen chicken tenders, which was the closest thing to the Daring package. I cooked the entire bag at 390F for 12 minutes, and the end result was exactly what I expected: hot and a little crisp. Another minute or three wouldn’t have hurt these, especially if you like your tendies extra crunchy.
When trying these plain, I found that the breading was quite thick on these pieces, and it was hard to taste the protein or get a good sense of its texture. But in the context of chicken tenders, that’s pretty par for the course. The chicken is often secondary to the outside breading, which was lightly seasoned with a sort of Italian blend of spices and nicely crunchy. It paired well with both the spicy garlic sauce and the ranch, which is a win for me.
I wasn’t feeling especially ambitious for a Monday lunch, so I served my Original Breaded Pieces with spicy garlic wing sauce (shoutout to Northeast Ohio chicken wing chain Winking Lizard and their incredible sauces), some baby carrots and ranch, for good measure.
In some pieces, the protein slid out as I bit, leaving me with a mouthful of soy and a shell of breading on my plate. I ate these as finger foods, so if you cut your Original Breading Pieces, this issue could be resolved. The texture wasn’t unpleasant, but I did struggle with it a bit again and found it slightly chewy, almost like overcooked chicken.
Overall, I found Daring to be a solid swap for chicken. It’s been quite a long time since I regularly bought chick’n pieces in my vegetarian days, but the taste of these is an improvement from the products of yore in my mind, even though I did struggle at times with the chewy texture.
Like Impossible Burgers, Just Egg and other plant-based animal product swaps, Daring Foods is a bit on the pricey side. On their website, a four-pack of Original, Cajun or Lemon & Herb Pieces will run you $29.99, resulting in a final price of $7.50 per eight-ounce pack. The Original Breaded Pieces are $29.99 for three, which breaks down to $10 a pack. This is much more expensive than eight ounces of chicken, which is a budgetary concern.
As an omnivore who dabbles in plant-based eating, I’m not so sure I’ll be adding Daring Foods to my regular grocery rotation, but for vegetarians and vegans, it’s exciting that plant-based chicken products are emerging on store shelves along with replacements for beef and sausages. If you don’t eat meat or you’re trying to cut down, I’d recommend these to you. Who knows? These pieces may be the perfect accompaniment to our favorite vegan recipes.
Disclosure: The product was provided by the company, but all opinions are honest and belong solely to the reviewer.