Simulate Nuggs – review & ethical rating

Simulate Nuggs (v2.0) are on sale at the Grocery Outlet at $10 for a large 2 lb box of vegan chicken nuggets. That’s about 20% lower than the regular price – not bad, but not as good a deal as other meat substitutes available at the Grocery Outlet. But it looked like an interesting company so I bought a box for research purposes 😉

Simulate is a plant-based food company that’s initially focused on vegan chicken nuggets, aka Nuggs. The founder, Ben Pasternak, was 15 years old when he received venture capital funding for his first company, a social networking app that has since shut down. Now the Australian entrepreneur is 23 years old and running Simulate in New York.

Simulate Nuggs – review

My first batch of Nuggs was dry and made a pretty poor impression, but that’s probably my own fault so I’ll strike it from the record. But, in my defense, the nuggets are thin a bit unforgiving on cooking temperature deviations. The Nuggs were redeemed in my second batch and my needle moved into the “might buy again” category. I say “might,” because there’s some stiff competition in the vegan nuggets world.

I don’t like Simulate Nuggs as much as Beyond Chicken tenders or Quorn nuggets in terms of either flavor or texture but others seem to love them. Bon Appétit magazine ran a taste test of several brands of vegan chicken nuggets and placed Simulate Nuggs in about second place on account of the nice breading. They labeled Nuggs as “the fast-food replica,” on account of a crust that resembled a McDonald’s nugget. Unfortunately, they didn’t include the Beyond Chicken tenders, which I covered in a recent post – perhaps it’s too big to be considered a nugget?! Here’s a nice, in-depth video review that includes (mostly positive) ratings by people who normally eat meat-based nuggets:

Because several companies make pretty good vegan nuggets, it may be easier to choose between them after considering their social and environmental impact. But all of them (at least, any of the brands that I’ve examined so far) are better than nuggets made from chicken meat (for example from McDonald’s) in terms of impact. So find one that you like, whether it’s Nuggs, Quorn, Beyond Meat, Impossible, or others (I’ll be reviewing nuggets from Impossible Foods and others soon.)

Simulate Nuggs – Ingredients and Nutrition

There’s some similarity between Simulate Nuggs and Beyond Chicken tenders in terms of ingredients, except for the main source of protein and fat. Simulate uses wheat protein and soybean oil while Beyond Meat uses fava bean protein and sunflower oil.

Simulate Nuggs – Ingredients: Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Soybean Oil, Breadcrumbs (Enriched Wheat Flour [Enriched with Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid], Sugar, Rice Flour, Yeast, Salt, Extractives of Paprika), Enriched Wheat Flour, Soy Protein Isolate, Corn Flour, Modified Food Starch, Wheat Protein Isolate. Contains 2% or less of: Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Methylcellulose, Tapioca Dextrin, Corn Starch, Yeast Extract, Garlic Powder, Onion Powder, Salt, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Baking Soda, Black Pepper, Paprika, Dextrose, Red Pepper.

Simulate Nuggs – Nutrition Facts: The nutritional content is also quite similar between Simulate Nuggs and Beyond Chicken tenders – the fat, fiber, sugar, and protein content are all pretty good while sodium is a little on the high side. But even though a serving of Nuggs provides 17% of our sodium daily allowance, I found that they tasted even better with a sprinkling of salt. I guess I’m a salt fiend, but the reviewer in the video above said the same thing – they taste underseasoned.

Simulate Nuggs - Nutrition Facts are shown. Per serving of 5 pieces, Simulate Nuggs (v2.0) provides 17% sodium (daily value), 2 g fiber, 13 g protein, 10 g total fat, and 1.5 g saturated fat.

Simulate Nuggs – product development inspired by tech

Simulate’s founder, Ben Pasternak, is more of a tech entrepreneur than a food science expert, and this shows when you look at the model for improvement of Nuggs. Similar to software development, the recipe for Nuggs is tweaked from time to time, partly based on customer feedback. As each new version is rolled out, Simulate will list the changes that have been made, as you can see in the image below. For example, Nuggs v1.5 involved elimination of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and a 65% reduction in sodium content (wow – salt content used to more than twice as high!). The current version, Nuggs v2.0, involved some pretty big ingredient changes – the elimination of konjac, pea protein, seaweed, and wheat gluten.

Simulate Nuggs - the company ethos is explained in a few symbols with statements like "Pro GMO."  Beneath that is a description of changes to the product that have taken place as new versions are rolled out.

Ethical rating for Simulate Nuggs

The other thing to note in the image above is Simulate’s statements about their ethos:

  • Highly processed
  • Pro GMO
  • Lab to Table

It’s an amusing way to describe their principles and I appreciate the transparency, but unfortunately that’s the only information provided.

As a research scientist who has worked in the genetic engineering field, I know many people who will support the pro-GMO stance. My opinion is that I support using genetically-modified microbes to make ingredients that would normally come from animal products. An example of that would be the milk protein produced in a fungus by Perfect Day, found in some products that I’ve reviewed here – Modern Kitchen cream cheese and Brave Robot ice cream. I’m not a fan of GMO crops, however – not exactly because of the genetic engineering part, but rather because the GM part is tightly bound to industrial agriculture practices that wage war on nature. When you buy GM seeds from Bayer/Monsanto you are almost always also buying into the heavy use of herbicides like glyphosate and pesticides such as neonics.

I would therefore appreciate if Simulate would take their transparency to a meaningful level by discussing which ingredients are genetically-modified and why. The terms “highly processed” and “lab to table” are also quite glib and not very informative in the absence of more information. I know that some critics of plant-based meat substitutes claim that they are highly-processed compared to meat. I discussed this in a Green Stars Project post on Quorn and came to the conclusion that fermenting a fungus (similar to making beer) and preparing protein from it does not really equate to highly-processed. Yes, there is processing involved, but when you compare it to the artifice of raising animals intensively (horribly cramped conditions, bizarre roughage feedstocks, antibiotics, growth hormones, high-throughput slaughtering, etc.) the product is a lot less adulterated. 

So, while I appreciate Simulate’s transparency in making these statements, I think that in the absence of further information they are unhelpful. Here’s my ethical score for Simulate Nuggs:

I think that Simulate Nuggs deserve 3/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact, based on these factors:

  • Simulate Nuggs is a vegan product. Adopting a plant-based diet is the top thing you can do to mitigate deforestation & climate change and to end animal cruelty and the insidious negative impact that the meat industry has on society.
  • The main ingredients, wheat and soy are generally far more sustainable than meat.
  • Simulate is not transparent about ingredient sourcing. Considering their pro-GMO stance, ingredients such as soybean oil may pose issues such as the use of neonics or displacement of rainforest.
  • If you would rather not support industrial agriculture then perhaps pass on this product, but it is still preferable to nuggets made from chicken meat.
  • Packaging for this 2 lb box is reasonably minimal – a plastic bag housed inside cardboard box.
Simulate Nuggs - Green Stars rating for social and environmental impact. A box of Simulate Chicken Nuggs is shown and beneath it is a score of 3/5 Green Stars for social and environmental impact.

Summary scores (out of 5) for Simulate Nuggs:

  • 3.5 gold stars for quality and value
  • 3 green stars for social and environmental impact

If you have a different opinion, please share your rating!

Published by jkaybay

I have two sites, both focused on ethical consumerism. The Green Stars Project (https://greenstarsproject.org/) aims to start a movement based on crowd-sourced ethical ratings. Ethical Bargains (https://ethicalbargains.org/) is focused on new products that I've bought at the Grocery Outlet.

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