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In my three years as a vegan, I’ve noticed that people love asking what food I miss most. In all honesty, I don’t find being plant-based all that difficult -- but I sometimes embellish my response because I can tell the asker really wants me to say veganism is an insurmountable, painstaking challenge that they should never attempt.
I understand that people love their intricate charcuterie boards and feta pasta and breakfast burritos -- I really do -- but in choosing to go vegan during the Renaissance of Plant-Based Food Creation, I haven’t felt all that deprived. In the past few years, I’ve tried plant-based beef, egg, and cheese alternatives that are so convincing I’ve had to triple check their labels. Adopting a completely plant-based diet, or even choosing a day or days to limit your animal product consumption, has truly never been easier… with one caveat.
For some reason, replicating chicken has seemingly been the one feat plant-based brands have struggled to achieve. My fellow editor Joe wrote about his underwhelming Nuggs experience a few months ago, and it’s certainly not the only plant-based chicken brand to underdeliver. So, when daring’s really real-looking chicken alternative caught my eye at my local Sprouts, I was intrigued to discover if the plant-based chicken code had finally been cracked. Did the plant-based lifestyle just get one step easier?
Big Chicken, Be Warned
Chicken is a huge and growing industry. Over 9 billion chickens are consumed every year, and fast food restaurants who serve some form of fried chicken saw a 20% increase in 2020 sales due to its portable, carry-out nature. However, it’s also an industry mired in controversy for its often unethical, unjust, and unsustainable practices.
I’m not here to discuss the ethics of chicken farming, so I won’t go into too much detail about the industry’s morality (I’m sure we’ve all seen at least one scarring documentary at this point). It is, however, a rabbit hole I fell down a few years ago -- just like daring co-founders Ross Mackay and Elliott Kessas. After they emerged, Mackay and Kessas created daring, a plant-based chicken brand that launched in March of 2020 with the mission of rethinking and replacing chicken in our food system.
Daring For Greatness
Mackay and Kessas grew up eating chicken regularly, which is an important note. They’re familiar with the taste and texture of a real, hearty chicken meal, which is why it was integral to them to create a plant-based alternative that serves as a 1:1 replacement for chicken. This means that it delivers the same look, taste, pull, and mouthfeel as traditional chicken.
Mackay and Kessas have launched four varieties of their plant-based “pieces,” which are branded as “the opposite of chicken” in clean, bright packaging. daring’s original pieces are created with just a few natural ingredients: water, soy protein concentrate, sunflower oil, natural flavoring and spices like paprika, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, mace, cardamom, and salt. They’re non-GMO, high in protein, and low in calories (90 per serving).
In addition to daring’s original pieces, the brand offers lemon & herb pieces, cajun pieces, and original breaded pieces, which are a spin on a nugget. All of daring’s pieces can be found online, plus at several retail locations like Sprouts, Wegman’s, Gelson’s, and more. The brand is also planning to expand -- to more retail locations and restaurants this year.
A Competitive Market
If you follow food trends or go grocery shopping even semi-regularly, you may have noticed that plant-based chicken seems to be the next big wave. A few years after impressive quality plant-based beef hit the market, it seems that well-known plant-based companies and traditional chicken companies alike are attempting to recreate Beyond Meat’s success in the plant-based meat aisle, this time with a spin on chicken.
Nuggs released Nuggs 2.0 this past summer, Tyson made their Raised & Rooted Nuggets fully plant-based at the end of 2020, and Rebellyous launched plant-based nuggets, patties, and tenders for food service in early 2021. If you’ve noticed a trend, it’s that entrants to the plant-based chicken space seem to feel most comfortable wrapping their chicken alternative in breading and dropping it as some form of patty or nugget, at least for now.
That’s where daring stands out -- while the brand has released its original breaded pieces, all three of its other offerings are unbreaded, meant to replace not only chicken nuggets, but also chicken in its many other (and healthier) forms: grilled, sauteed, or baked for salad, pasta, rice bowl, and sandwich inclusion, too. It also gives daring more of a for-the-whole-family feel, as the brand has options for kids, adults, and everyone in between. daring is clearly on a mission to replace all chicken, not just chicken nuggets.
Dare I Try It?
As I mentioned, daring caught my eye at a local Sprouts, but I actually ordered from the brand online. I was impressed by my box’s quick and well-packaged delivery. I sampled all 4 of daring’s current options, and they were neatly packaged in a daring brand reusable cooler bag, which was wrapped in dry ice and tucked into a branded daring box on my doorstep.
In fairness to each of you, I sampled daring with my family, most of who eat real chicken, to get feedback on the brand both from someone who has been out of the chicken game for years and a few people who eat chicken regularly. We tried cajun and original pieces with a Mexican-style dinner, original breaded pieces for lunch, and lemon & herb pieces in a pasta dish. One quick observation: we all enjoyed the fact that daring has so many use-cases.
In terms of taste and feel, daring’s founders really delivered on their goal of creating a 1:1 chicken substitute. In fact, it had been so long since I’d eaten anything resembling chicken’s texture or pull, and daring’s pieces replicate both so closely, that my first few bites were trepidatious. My father, on the other hand, dove right in and was blown away with how chicken-like daring’s pieces are (he regularly mocks the vegan-friendly alternatives I suggest).
My father dove right in and was blown away with how chicken-like daring’s pieces are (he regularly mocks the vegan-friendly alternatives I suggest).
I warmed up to the plant-based chicken experience, and most enjoyed the lemon & herb pieces in a pasta dish that included sauce and vegetables as well. My other family members agreed that the pasta was our best daring meal so far, though my dad found the breaded pieces particularly addicting as well.
While I would certainly recommend daring pieces to any meat-lover who is looking for a more sustainable and conscious chicken alternative, I imagine that longtime vegans and vegetarians, may find that daring is too close to real chicken for their everyday use.
But, perhaps that’s precisely the point. Mackay and Kessas made a calculated and important decision to specifically target chicken-lovers with the taste, texture, and pull of daring. They’ve entered this space not just to capitalize on the next food trend but also determined to disrupt an industry that’s as unsustainable as it is unethical. From their story to their branding and production, Mackay and Kessas are daring to make a difference for all the right reasons. Bonus for me: it’s now that much easier to convince anyone who asks that giving up chicken really isn’t so hard after all.
5 More Reasons To Love Daring:
- daring is re-imagining our food system with alternatives that serve as 1:1 replacements -- and they actually taste like real chicken.
- In addition to being plant-based, daring’s pieces are non-GMO, high in protein, and low in calories.
- The brand launched ‘daring is caring,’ an ongoing initiative to be more sustainable and support like-minded businesses also daring to build a brighter future.
- You can shop for daring at retailers nationwide or online, where it’s delivered to your door super quickly.
- daring is planning a lot of expansion in coming months, including to more stores and some restaurants.