In our new series 'The tastemaker', Gary Kennedy, food technologist and leading authority on food safety, talks to us about manufactured foods.
"I often get asked 'What’s in a chicken nugget?’
Manufacturers don't get a chicken breast and cut a neat cube out to form a nugget.
Nuggets are a handy way for companies to use up their leftovers – it may be meat that is accidentally cut during processing, dark coloured or bruised. It may be skin, after all, we do eat the skin. Or, it could be from hens that were egg layers, with the meat too tough to sell as chicken portions. All of this meat is safe to eat; it just doesn’t look perfect.
After chicken, the next ingredient by volume is water. This makes the nuggets juicy and tender and bulks them out, cutting costs. To bind the minced chicken and water together takes a number of additives. This is why the ingredient list includes names like mineral salts,gluten, soy lecithin and maltodextrin. Then, for flavour, there will be salt, pepper, herbs and spices.
That crispy coating is mainly flour and starch. It may also contain yellow colouring, yeast and gluten or soy protein to bind it together.
Usually, it's then fried in vegetable oil to cook before getting frozen for packaging.
The manufacturer must legally declare the percentage of chicken on the pack. Look for those that have the highest percentage of chicken for your best option."