• 10.11.13

What’s In A Chicken Nugget? Because It’s Not Just Chicken Meat

When you actually find out what goes into your favorite fried finger food, you might not want to pick them up. Or you might find out you just like some more exotic ingredients.

What’s In A Chicken Nugget? Because It’s Not Just Chicken Meat
[Image via Shutterstock]

My family used to joke that breaded chicken products were the only things my sister ate for the first six years of her life. We were being hyperbolic, but it’s true: Kids love chicken nuggets. A new study suggests, however, that it’s not the chicken we think it is lying underneath those breaded surfaces.


In a sample of chicken nuggets sourced over the counter from two national fast food chains near the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, Dr. Richard Deshazo discovered that muscle made up only 40% to 50% of the nuggets. Under the microscope, he and his team found that the rest of the nuggets was mostly fat, with a hearty helping of “epithelium and other supporting tissue” (skin). One contained organ tissue, with a splash of nerves and blood vessels, while the other contained shredded bits of bone.

“Available information suggests that the average composition of chicken nuggets from restaurant chain 1 is 56% fat, 25% carbohydrates, and 19% protein, and from restaurant chain 2 is 58% fat, 24% carbohydrates, and 18% protein,” researchers wrote in the American Journal of Medicine. “Chicken nuggets are mostly fat, and their name is a misnomer.”

When Reuters put Deshazo’s findings in front of the National Chicken Council (NCC), whose members produce 95% of the chicken processed in the United States, Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Ashley Peterson maintained that chicken nuggets were “an excellent source of protein, especially for kids who might be picky eaters.” She also said that the analysis was too small to make generalizations about the billions of chicken nuggets produced each year, and claimed that chicken nuggets tend to be fatty primarily because they’re breaded and fried. The latter appears to directly dispute what Deshazo found under the microscope.

The study didn’t disclose which national chains researchers sourced from, but no major chains claimed to use all white breast meat in their nuggets. (McDonald’s, oddly enough, switched to white meat in 2003).

About the author

Sydney Brownstone is a Seattle-based former staff writer at Co.Exist. She lives in a Brooklyn apartment with windows that don’t quite open, and covers environment, health, and data.