It will be interesting to see if the ghost pepper can hang with the Impossible Burger and the nitrites. Burger King is adding Ghost Pepper Chicken Nuggets to its lineup of large chicken nuggets in a limited rollout beginning Sunday and running until Nov. 4, the Miami-based chain said.
The “real deal” ghosts are far more pungent than the fake ones of the Impossible Burger, which are not particularly spicy, despite claims by the company that they have 100 times fewer calories than a regular burger.
The series of microwavable, freezer-packaged nuggets are marked in the various packaging tests as “BK Real Food Nachos,” and the description on the actual microwave bag says the meat contains 300 calories with 14 grams of fat, 11 grams of protein and more than one gram of saturated fat. Other small chicken snacks in the launch pack, a box with nine nuggets, has 300 calories with 18 grams of fat, 10 grams of protein and no saturated fat.
While not quite as pungent as the ghost, the chili is fierce and a chili con carne-like marinade helps the no-nitrite meat hold up to the bite of a trip to the gas station. But the action actually starts with a word to the effect of, “Hey, want spicy chicken?” and moves straight into the shaking up of four different sauces: ranch, sour cream, honey-mustard and spicy sauce. Not that any of this is totally surprising: With a long history in southern cooking, the ghost pepper has been used to sear meat and to flavor drinks, soup and vegetables.
Another aspect that may not be shocking but nonetheless will be interesting is that the chicken wing is listed as a protein. If customers were fed up by the “trend” of adding meat to seemingly innocuous fare such as fries and nachos, maybe adding it to the chicken nuggets, which are sold mostly in convenience stores, will appease them.
This is likely not just a gimmick that will quickly be dropped after the success of the Ghost Pepper Chicken has slowed. At a time when most fast-food chains offer salads and grilled entrees that were engineered to please nutritionists and physicians and to have little potential to outrage nutrition activists, the spice flavorings are a different story.
“We get a lot of weird questions from parents asking what’s for dinner,” Tyler de Castillo, senior marketing manager at Burger King, said by phone on Thursday. “But for the most part, most people are seeing this as a fun, unique product that is perfect for kids or someone who wants to try a new flavor. There isn’t really anything else like it on the market.”
In June, Burger King announced that it was launching a test of pseudo-acids – that are food additives without actual added trans fats – in small quantities in the Impossible Burger, the popular vegetarian burger that uses pea protein as an artery-clogging blend. Whether these ingredients are as sharply acrid as the fictional ghosts, the test of how they will affect the taste profile of the burger, was “completely uncertain,” Burger King CEO Daniel Schwartz said in an investor call in June.
“There is a potential there to do it tastewise, but we will know after we put it into the test,” he said. “All I can say is if we have a problem, we will fix it, because we have serious doubts about this product.”
Pascal Zierling, co-founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, said the burger has been tested successfully in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles in small pilot programs. It will come back nationwide during summer vacation periods at McDonald’s and Burger King.
In the test, Zierling said, they were concerned about how it would affect the burger taste, but in all three test markets, McDonald’s and Burger King, adults were willing to try it. What they found was that “mild to moderate,” tasted more like the fake burger than the real thing.
“What’s true, is kids liked it and adults liked it,” he said. “We see two very different experiences we had in this product with adults being extremely excited and kids being relatively indifferent.”