Chicken Little: How Fast-Food Chains Are Bulking Up Their Chicken Offerings With Seaweed and Other Unexpected Ingredients

Fried chicken is a favorite for millions of Americans, but many of the options offered by the biggest fast-food chains contain other unexpected ingredients. These restaurants often fill their food with additives, preservatives, and even other proteins in order to keep costs at a minimum and give their offerings a longer shelf life. Others may use buzzwords like “premium” or “all-white meat” to describe their poultry-based offerings. Even more surprising, many are now turning to “bulking” substances like seaweed, soy, oats, and even wood pulp. McDonald’s, for example, boosts their McNuggets by pumping them full of flour, acid, yeast extract, dextrose and lemon juice solids. Wendy’s Classic Chicken Sandwich only contains 56% chicken breast, while the remainder is dehydrated chicken powder and smoke flavoring. Carl’s Jr. stuffs their chicken nuggets with soy, wheat, corn protein, beef fat and an “isolated oat product,” while its bun is made with microcrystalline cellulose, which is a refined wood pulp. Subway uses various parts of red seaweed, potato starch, and carrageenan to plump its Oven Roasted Chicken sandwich and chicken strips, and Whataburger bulks up their Southern-style chicken strips with soy protein. Finally, White Castle has the least amount of chicken in their offerings, which are stuffed with seaweed and powdered chicken. All of these alternative fillers can cause problems for people who have allergies to them.